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The One- Straw
An Introduction to Natural Farming
With a Preface by Wendell Berry
Edited by Larry Korn
RODALE PRESS : EMMAUS : 1978
Copyright © 1978 by Rodale Press, Inc.,
and Masanobu Fukuoka.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or
transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical
including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and
retrieval system, without the written permission of the publisher.
The One-Straw Revolution
was translated from the Japanese
by Chris Pearce, Tsune Kurosawa, and Larry Korn.
Originally published as Shizen Noho Warn Ippon No Kakumei by
Hakujusha Co., Ltd., Tokyo, Japan
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING IN PUBLICATION
The one-straw revolution.
A translation, with additions, of the author's Shizen noho wara ippon
no kakumei, published in 1975.
1. No-tillage. 2. Organic farming. 3. No-tillage — Japan. 4. Organic
farming — Japan. 5. Fukuoka, Masanobu. I. Title. II. Title: Natural
S604.F8413 631.5'8 78-1930
ISBN 0-87857-220-1 hardcover
Printed in the United States of America on recycled paper.
Photo and Illustration Credits:
The back cover photograph and photos on pages 43, 45, 57, and 62, are
© copyright 1978 by Masanobu Fukuoka.
Photographs on the following pages are © copyright 1977, 1978 by
Howard Harrison: 2, 16, 35, 42, 50, 55, 73, 93, 101, 107, 112, 125, 140,
152, 158, 169, and 174.
The photograph on page 183 (colophon] is © copyright 1978 by Tsune
The front cover illustration, and all interior drawings are © copyright
1978 by Chuck Miller.
The photograph on page 46 is © copyright 1978 by Tomas Nelissen.
Preface by Wendell Berry ix
Introduction by Larry Korn xv
Translator's Notes xxvii
Look at this Grain 1
Nothing at All 4
Returning to the Country 1 1
Toward a Do-Nothing Farming 1 5
Returning to the Source 19
One Reason Natural Farming Has Not Spread 22
Humanity Does Not Know Nature. 25
Four Principles of Natural Farming 33
Farming Among the Weeds 41
Farming with Straw. 47
Growing Rice in a Dry Field 53
Orchard Trees 58
Orchard Earth 61
Growing Vegetables like Wild Plants 65
The Terms for Abandoning Chemicals 70
Limits of the Scientific Method 74
One Farmer Speaks Out 19
A Modest Solution to a Difficult Problem 82
The Fruit of Hard Times 85
The Marketing of Natural Food 89
Commercial Agriculture Will Fail 92
Research for Whose Benefit? 96
What is Human Food? 99
A Merciful Death for Barley 1 05
Simply Serve Nature and All is Well 1 1
Various Schools of Natural Farming 115
Confusion About Food 123
Nature's Food Mandala 127
The Culture of Food 134
Living by Bread Alone 139
Summing up Diet 142
Food and Farming 147
Foolishness Comes Out Looking Smart 151
Who is the Fool? 156
I Was Bom to Go to Nursery School 160
Drifting Clouds and the Illusion of Science 164
The Theory of Relativity. 169
A Village Without War and Peace 1 72
The One-Straw Revolution 178
This translation has been a communal effort
by the student workers on the mountain.
Readers who expect this to be a book only about
farming will be surprised to find that it is also a book about
diet, about health, about cultural values, about the limits of
human knowledge. Others, led to it by hearsay of its
philosophy, will be surprised to find it full of practical
knowhow about growing rice and winter grain, citrus fruit,
and garden vegetables on a Japanese farm.
It is exactly because of such habitual expectations —
because we have learned to expect people to be specialists
and books to have only one subject — that we are in need of
The One-Straw Revolution. This book is valuable to us
because it is at once practical and philosophical. It is an
inspiring, necessary book about agriculture because it is not
just about agriculture.
Knowledgeable readers will be aware that Mr.
Fukuoka's techniques will not be directly applicable to
most American farms. But it would be a mistake to assume
that the practical passages of this book are worthless to us
for that reason. They deserve our attention because they
provide an excellent example of what can be done when
land, climate, and crops are studied with fresh interest,
clear eyes, and the right kind of concern. They are valuable
to us also because they are suggestive and inspiring. Any
farmer who reads them will find his thoughts lured
repeatedly from the page to his own fields, and from there,
making connections, to the entire system of American
Like many in this country, and sooner than most, Mr.
Fukuoka has understood that we cannot isolate one aspect
of life from another. When we change the way we grow our
food, we change our food, we change society, we change
our values. And so this book is about paying attention to
relationships, to causes and effects, and it is about being
responsible for what one knows.
Those who are familiar with the literature of organic
farming will see the similarities between Mr. Fukuoka's
career and that of Sir Albert Howard, the founder of the
science of organic agriculture in the West. Like Howard,
Mr. Fukuoka started as a laboratory scientist, and, like him,
soon saw the limitations of the laboratory. Howard moved
his work from the laboratory to the farm, and so changed
his life, when he realized that responsibility required him to
take his own advice before offering it to other people. Mr.
Fukuoka determined his own course in the same way:
"Eventually I decided to give my thoughts a form, to put
them into practice, and so to determine whether my
understanding was right or wrong. To spend my life
farming . . . this was the course upon which I settled." And
he says: "Instead of offering a hundred explanations, would
not practicing this philosophy be the best way?" When the
specialist decides to take his own advice, and begins to do
as he says, he breaks down the walls of his specialization.
We listen to him then as we could not before, because he
speaks with authority — not out of knowledge only, but out
of knowledge and experience together.
When Mr. Fukuoka speaks of what he calls his "do-
nothing" methods of farming, a Westerner might
appropriately be reminded of St. Matthew 6:26: "Behold
the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap,
nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth
them." The purpose in both instances, I take it, is to warn us
of our proper place in the order of things: we did not make
either the world or ourselves; we live by using life, not by
creating it. But of course a farmer cannot farm without
work any more than a bird can find food without searching
for it, a fact that Mr. Fukuoka acknowledges with
characteristic good humor: "I advocate 'do-nothing'
farming, and so many people come, thinking they will find
a Utopia where one can live without ever having to get out
of bed. These people are in for a big surprise." The
argument here is not against work; it is against unnecessary
work. People sometimes work more than they need to for
the things that they desire, and some things that they desire
they do not need.
And "do-nothing" also refers to the stance that
common sense is apt to take in response to expert authority:
'"How about not doing this? How about not doing that?' —
that was my way of thinking." This is the instructive
contrariness of children and certain old people, who rightly
distrust the "sophistication" that goes ahead without asking
Mr. Fukuoka is a scientist who is suspicious of
science — or of what too often passes for science. This does
not mean that he is either impractical or contemptuous of
knowledge. His suspicion, indeed, comes from his
practicality and from what he knows. Like Sir Albert
Howard, Mr. Fukuoka condemns the piecemealing of
knowledge by specialization. Like Howard, he wishes to
pursue his subject in its wholeness, and he never forgets
that its wholeness includes both what he knows and what
he does not know. What he fears in modern applied science
is its disdain for mystery, its willingness to reduce life to
what is known about it and to act on the assumption that
what it does not know can safely be ignored. "Nature as
grasped by scientific knowledge," he says, "is a nature
which has been destroyed; it is a ghost possessing a
skeleton, but no soul." Such a passage will recall the
similar mistrust voiced in our own tradition in these lines
Our meddling intellect
Misshapes the beauteous forms of things —
We murder to dissect.
Mr. Fukuoka's is a science that begins and ends in
reverence — in awareness that the human grasp necessarily
diminishes whatever it holds. It is not knowledge, he seems
to say, that gives us the sense of the whole, but joy, which
we may have only by not grasping. We find this
corrroborated in certain passages in the Gospels, and in
He who binds to himself a joy
Doth the winged life destroy;
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity's sunrise.
It is this grace that is the origin of Mr. Fukuoka's
agricultural insights: "When it is understood that one loses
joy and happiness in the effort to possess them, the essence
of natural farming will be realized."
And this "natural" farming that has its source and end
in reverence is everywhere human and humane. Humans
work best when they work for human good, not for the
"higher production" or "increased efficiency" which have
been the nearly exclusive goals of industrial agriculture.
"The ultimate goal of farming," Mr. Fukuoka says, "is not
the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection- of
human beings." And he speaks of agriculture as a way: "To
be here, caring for a small field, in full possession of the
freedom and plentitude of each day, every day — this must
have been the original way of agriculture. An agriculture
that is whole nourishes the whole person, body and soul.
We do not live by bread alone.
Near a small village on the island of Shikoku in
southern Japan, Masanobu Fukuoka has been developing a
method of natural farming which could help to reverse the
degenerative momentum of modern agriculture. Natural
farming requires no machines, no chemicals, and very little
weeding. Mr. Fukuoka does not plow the soil or use
prepared compost. He does not hold water in his rice fields
throughout the growing season as farmers have done for
centuries in the Orient and around the world. The soil of his
fields has been left unplowed for over twenty-five years,
yet their yields compare favorably with those of the most
productive Japanese farms. His method of farming requires
less labor than any other. It creates no pollution and does
not require the use of fossil fuels.
When I first heard stories about Mr. Fukuoka, I was
skeptical. How could it be possible to grow high-yielding
crops of rice and winter grains each year simply by
scattering seed onto the surface of an unplowed field?
There had to be more to it than that.
For several years I had been living with a group of
friends on a farm in the mountains north of Kyoto. We used
the traditional methods of Japanese agriculture to grow
rice, rye, barley, soybeans, and various garden vegetables.
Visitors to our farm often spoke of the work of Mr.
Fukuoka. None of these people had stayed long enough at
his farm to learn the details of his technique, but their talk
excited my curiosity.
Whenever there was a lull in our work schedule, I
travelled to other parts of the country, stopping at farms
and communes, working part-time along the way. On one
of these excursions I paid a visit to Mr. Fukuoka's farm to
learn about this man's work for myself.
I am not quite sure what I expected him to be like, but
after having heard so much about this great teacher, I was
somewhat surprised to see that he was dressed in the boots
and the work clothes of the average Japanese farmer. Yet
his white wispy beard and alert, self-assured manner gave
him the presence of a most unusual person.
I stayed at Mr. Fukuoka's farm for several months on
that first visit, working in the fields and in the citrus
orchard. There, and in the mudwalled huts in evening
discussions with other student farmworkers, the details of
Mr. Fukuoka's method and its underlying philosophy
gradually became clear to me.
Mr. Fukuoka's orchard is located on the hillsides
overlooking Matsuyama Bay. This is "the mountain" where
his students live and work. Most of them arrive as I did,
with a knapsack on their backs, not knowing what to
expect. They stay for a few days or a few weeks, and
disappear down the mountain again. But there is usually a
core group of four or five who have been there for a year or
so. Over the years many people, both women and men,
have come to stay and work.
There are no modern conveniences. Drinking water is
carried in buckets from the spring, meals are cooked at a
wood-burning fireplace, and light is provided by candles
and kerosene lamps. The mountain is rich with wild herbs
and vegetables. Fish and shellfish can be gathered in
nearby streams, and sea vegetables from the Inland Sea a
few miles away.
Jobs vary with the weather and the season. The
workday begins at about eight; there is an hour for lunch
(two or three hours during the heat of midsummer); the
students return to the huts from their work just before dusk.
Besides the agricultural jobs, there are the daily chores of
carrying water, cutting firewood, cooking, preparing the
hot bath, taking care of the goats, feeding the chickens and
collecting their eggs, minding the bee hives, repairing and
occasionally constructing new huts, and preparing miso
(soybean paste) and tofu (soybean curd).
Mr. Fukuoka provides 10,000 yen (about $35) a
month for the living expenses of the whole community.
Most of it is used to buy soy sauce, vegetable oil, and other
necessities which are impractical to produce on a small
scale. For the rest of their needs, the students must rely
entirely on the crops they grow, the resources of the area,
and on their own ingenuity. Mr. Fukuoka purposely has his
students live in this semi-primitive manner, as he himself
has lived for many years, because he believes that this way
of life develops the sensitivity necessary to farm by his
In the area of Shikoku where Mr. Fukuoka lives, rice
is grown on the coastal plains and citrus on the surrounding
hillsides. Mr. Fukuoka's farm consists of one and a quarter
acres of rice fields and twelve and a half acres of mandarin
orange orchards. This may not seem like much to a
Western farmer, but because all the work is done with the
traditional Japanese hand tools, it requires a lot of labor to
maintain even so small an acreage.
Mr. Fukuoka works with the students in the fields and
in the orchard, but no one knows exactly when he will visit
the job site. He seems to have a knack for appearing at
times when the students least expect him. He is an
energetic man, always chattering about one thing or
another. Sometimes he calls the students together to discuss
the work they are doing, often pointing out ways in which
the job could be accomplished more easily and quickly. At
other times he talks about the life cycle of a weed or
disease fungus in the orchard, and occasionally he pauses
to recall and reflect upon his farming experiences. Besides
explaining his techniques, Mr. Fukuoka also teaches the
fundamental skills of agriculture. He emphasizes the
importance of caring properly for tools and never tires of
demonstrating their usefulness.
If the newcomer expected "natural farming" to mean
that nature would farm while he sat and watched, Mr.
Fukuoka soon taught him that there was a great deal he had
to know and do. Strictly speaking, the only "natural"
farming is hunting and gathering. Raising agricultural crops
is a cultural innovation which requires knowledge and
persistent effort. The fundamental distinction is that Mr.
Fukuoka farms by cooperating with nature rather than
trying to "improve" upon nature by conquest.
Many visitors come to spend only an afternoon, and
Mr. Fukuoka patiently shows them around his farm. It is
not uncommon to see him striding up the mountain path
with a group often or fifteen visitors puffing behind. There
have not always been so many visitors, however. For years,
while he was developing his method, Mr. Fukuoka had
little contact with anyone outside his village.
As a young man, Mr. Fukuoka left his rural home and
travelled to Yokohama to pursue a career as a
microbiologist. He became a specialist in plant diseases and
worked for some years in a laboratory as an "agricultural
customs inspector. It was at that time, while still a young
man of twenty-five, that Mr. Fukuoka experienced the
realization which was to form the basis of his life's work
and which was to be the theme of this book, The One-Straw
Revolution. He left his job and returned to his native village
to test the soundness of his ideas by applying them in his
The basic idea came to him one day as he happened to
pass an old field which had been left unused and unplowed
for many years. There he saw healthy rice seedlings
sprouting through a tangle of grasses and weeds. From that
time on, he stopped flooding his field in order to grow rice.
He stopped sowing rice seed in the spring and, instead, put
the seed out in the autumn, sowing it directly onto the
surface of the field when it would naturally have fallen to
the ground. Instead of plowing the soil to get rid of weeds,
he learned to control them by a more or less permanent
ground cover of white clover and a mulch of rice and
barley straw. Once he has seen to it that conditions have
been tilted in favor of his crops, Mr. Fukuoka interferes as
little as possible with the plant and animal communities in
Since many Westerners, even farmers, are not familiar
with the rotation of rice and winter grain, and because Mr.
Fukuoka makes many references to rice-growing in The
One-Straw Revolution, it may be helpful to say a few words
about traditional Japanese agriculture.
Originally rice seed was cast directly onto the flooded
river plain during the monsoon season. Eventually the
bottomlands were terraced to hold irrigation water even
after the seasonal flooding had subsided.
By the traditional method, used in Japan until the end
of the Second World War, rice seed is sown onto a
carefully prepared starter bed. Compost and manure are
distributed over the field, which is then flooded and plowed
to a pea-soup consistency. When the seedlings are about
eight inches tall, they are transplanted by hand to the field.
Working steadily, an experienced farmer can transplant
about one -third of an acre in a day, but the job is almost
always done by many people working together.
Once the rice has been transplanted, the field is lightly
cultivated between the rows. It is then hand-weeded, and
often mulched. For three months the field stays flooded, the
water standing an inch or more above the surface of the
ground. Harvesting is done with a hand sickle. The rice is
bundled and hung on wooden or bamboo racks for a few
weeks to dry before threshing. From transplanting to
harvest, every inch of the field is gone over at least four
times by hand.
As soon as the rice harvest is completed, the field is
plowed and the soil is shaped into flattened ridges about a
foot wide divided by drainage furrows. The seeds of rye or
barley are scattered on top of the hills and covered with
soil. This rotation was made possible by a well-timed
planting schedule and care to keep the fields well supplied
with organic matter and essential nutrients. It is remarkable
that, using the traditional method, Japanese farmers grew a
crop of rice and a winter grain crop each year in the same
field for centuries without reducing the fertility of the soil.
Though he recognizes many virtues of the traditional
farming, Mr. Fukuoka feels that it involves work that is
unnecessary. He speaks of his own methods as "do-
nothing" farming and says that they make it possible even
for a "Sunday farmer" to grow enough food for the whole
family. He does not mean, however, that his sort of farming
can be done entirely without effort. His farm is maintained
by a regular schedule of field chores. What is done must be
done properly and with sensitivity. Once the farmer has
determined that a plot of land should grow rice or
vegetables and has cast the seed, he must assume
responsibility for maintaining that plot. To disrupt nature
and then to abandon her is harmful and irresponsible.
In the fall Mr. Fukuoka sows the seeds of rice, white
clover, and winter grain onto the same fields and covers
them with a thick layer of rice straw. The barley or rye and
the clover sprout up right away; the rice seeds lie dormant
While the winter grain is growing and ripening in the
lower fields, the orchard hillsides become the center of
activity. The citrus harvest lasts from mid-November to
The rye and barley are harvested in May and spread to
dry on the field for a week or ten days. They are then
threshed, winnowed, and put into sacks for storage. All of
the straw is scattered unshredded across the field as mulch.
Water is then held in the field for a short time during the
monsoon rains in June to weaken the clover and weeds and
to give the rice a chance to sprout through the ground
cover. Once the field is drained, the clover recovers and
spreads beneath the growing rice plants. From then until
harvest, a time of heavy labor for the traditional farmer, the
only jobs in Mr. Fukuoka's rice fields are those of
maintaining the drainage channels and mowing the narrow
walkways between the fields.
The rice is harvested in October. The grain is hung to
dry and then threshed. Autumn seeding is completed just as
the early varieties of mandarin oranges are becoming ripe
and ready for harvest.
Mr. Fukuoka harvests between 1 8 and 22 bushels
(1,100 to 1,300 pounds) of rice per quarter acre. This yield
is approximately the same as is produced by either the
chemical or the traditional method in his area. The yield of
his winter grain crop is often higher than that of either the
traditional farmer or the chemical farmer who both use the
ridge and furrow method of cultivation.
All three methods (natural, traditional, and chemical)
yield comparable harvests, but differ markedly in their
effect on the soil. The soil in Mr. Fukuoka's fields improves
with each season. Over the past twenty-five years, since he
stopped plowing, his fields have improved in fertility,
structure, and in their ability to retain water. By the
traditional method the condition of the soil over the years
remains about the same. The farmer takes yields in direct
proportion to the amount of compost and manure he puts
in. The soil in the fields of the chemical farmer becomes
lifeless and depleted of its native fertility in a short time.
One of the greatest advantages of Mr. Fukuoka's
method is that rice can be grown without flooding the field
throughout the growing season. Few people have ever
thought this possible. It is possible, and Mr. Fukuoka
maintains that rice grows better this way. His rice plants are
strong-stemmed and deeply rooted. The old variety of
glutinous rice that he grows has between 250 and 300
grains per head.-
The use of mulch increases the soil's ability to retain
water. In many places natural farming can completely
eliminate the need for irrigation. Rice and other high-
yielding crops can therefore be grown in areas not
previously thought suitable. Steep and otherwise marginal
land can be brought into production without danger of
erosion. By means of natural farming, soils already
damaged by careless agricultural practices or by chemicals
can be effectively rehabilitated.
Plant diseases and insects are present in the fields and
in the orchard, but the crops are never devastated. The
damage affects only the weakest plants. Mr. Fukuoka
insists that the best disease and insect control is to grow
crops in a healthy environment.
The fruit trees of Mr. Fukuoka's orchard are not
pruned low and wide for easy harvesting, but are allowed to
grow into their distinctive natural shapes. Vegetables and
herbs are grown on the orchard slopes with a minimum of
soil preparation. During the spring, seeds of burdock,
cabbage, radish, soybeans, mustard, turnips, carrots and
other vegetables are mixed together and tossed out to
germinate in an open area among the trees before one of the
long spring rains. This sort of planting obviously would not
work everywhere. It works well in Japan where there is a
humid climate with rain dependably falling throughout the
spring months. The texture of the soil of Mr. Fukuoka's
orchard is clayey. The surface layer is rich in organic
matter, friable, and retains water well. This is the result of
the cover of weeds and clover that has grown in the orchard
continuously for many years.
The weeds must be cut back when the vegetable
seedlings are young, but once the vegetables have
established themselves they are left to grow up with the
natural ground cover. Some vegetables go unharvested, the
seeds fall, and after one or two generations, they revert to
the growing habits of their strong and slightly bitter-tasting
wild predecessors. Many of these vegetables grow up
completely untended. Once, not long after I came to Mr.
Fukuoka's farm, I was walking through a remote section of
the orchard and unexpectedly kicked something hard in the
tall grass. Stooping to look more closely, I found a
cucumber, and nearby I found a squash nestled among the
For years Mr. Fukuoka wrote about his method in
books and magazines, and was interviewed on radio and
television, but almost no one followed his example. At that
time Japanese society was moving with determination in
exactly the opposite direction.
After the Second World War, the Americans
introduced modern chemical agriculture to Japan. This
enabled the Japanese farmer to produce approximately the
same yields as the traditional method, but the farmer's time
and labor were reduced by more than half. This seemed a
dream come true, and within one generation almost
everyone had switched to chemical agriculture.
For centuries Japanese farmers had maintained
organic matter in the soil by rotating crops, by adding
compost and manure, and by growing cover crops. Once
these practices were neglected and fast-acting chemical
fertilizer was used instead, the humus was depleted in a
single generation. The structure of the soil deteriorated;
crops became weak and dependent on chemical nutrients.
To make up for reduced human and animal labor, the new
system mined the fertility reserves of the soil.
During the past forty years Mr. Fukuoka has
witnessed with indignation the degeneration both of the
land and of Japanese society. The Japanese followed
singlemindedly the American model of economic and
industrial development. The population shifted as farmers
migrated from the countryside into the growing industrial
centers. The rural village where Mr. Fukuoka was born and
where the Fukuoka family has probably lived for 1 ,400
years or more now stands at the edge of the advancing
suburbs of Matsuyama City. A national highway with its
litter of sake bottles and trash passes through Mr.
Fukuoka's rice fields.
Although he does not identify his philosophy with any
particular religious sect or organization, Mr. Fukuoka's
terminology and teaching methods are strongly influenced
by Zen Buddhism and Taoism. He will sometimes also
quote from the Bible and bring up points of Judeo-Christian
philosophy and theology to illustrate what he is saying or to
Mr. Fukuoka believes that natural farming proceeds
from the spiritual health of the individual. He considers the
healing of the land and the purification of the human spirit
to be one process, and he proposes a way of life and a way
of farming in which this process can take place.
It is unrealistic to believe that, in his lifetime and
within current conditions, Mr. Fukuoka could completely
realize his vision in practice. Even after more than thirty
years his techniques are still evolving. His great
contribution is to demonstrate that the daily process of
establishing spiritual health can bring about a practical and
beneficial transformation of the world.
Today, the general recognition of the long-term
dangers of chemical farming has renewed interest in
alternative methods of agriculture. Mr. Fukuoka has
emerged as a leading spokesman for agricultural revolution
in Japan. Since the publication of The One-Straw
Revolution in October, 1975, interest in natural farming has
spread rapidly among the Japanese people.
During the year-and-a-half that I worked at Mr.
Fukuoka's, I returned frequently to my farm in Kyoto.
Everyone there was anxious to try the new method and
gradually more and more of our land was converted to
Besides rice and rye in the traditional rotation, we also
grew wheat, buckwheat, potatoes, corn, and soybeans by
Mr. Fukuoka's method. To plant corn and other row crops
which germinate slowly, we poked a hole in the soil with a
stick or a piece of bamboo and dropped a seed into each
hole. We interplanted the corn with soybeans by the same
method or by wrapping the seeds in clay pellets and
scattering them onto the field. Then we mowed the ground
cover of weeds and white clover, and covered the field with
straw. The clover came back, but only after the corn and
soybeans were well established.
Mr. Fukuoka was able to help by making some
suggestions, but we had to adjust the method by trial and
error to our various crops and local conditions. We knew
from the start that it would take more than just a few
seasons, both for the land and our own spirits, to change
over to natural farming. The transition has become an on-
Notes on the Translation
A literal translation from one language to another
would be challenging enough, but to retain the flavor and
cultural context of the original as well, is even more
difficult. In particular, Japanese is more subtle than English
in expressing the kind of spiritual experiences and
philosophical teachings which are found in this book. Some
terms, such as "discriminating" and "non-discriminating"
knowledge, "no-mind," and "do-nothing" have no English
equivalent, and so have been rendered literally with
additional explanation provided in notes.
It is a common teaching device among Oriental
philosophers to use paradox, illogic, and apparent
contradiction to help break habitual patterns of thought.
Such passages are not necessarily to be taken either literally
or figuratively, but rather as exercises to open the
consciousness to perception beyond the reach of the
The Japanese, mugi, translated as "winter grain,"
includes wheat, rye, and barley. The growing methods for
these grains are similar, except that wheat generally takes a
few weeks longer to mature. Rye and barley are much more
commonly grown in Japan because wheat is not ready for
harvest until the middle of the Japanese rainy season.
The Japanese, mikan, is translated as citrus. The most
common Oriental citrus is the mandarin orange. While
many varieties of mandarin oranges are grown in Japan, the
most common is a small orange fruit very much like our
Where context requires, the precise winter grain and
citrus varieties are given.
The translation of The One-Straw Revolution was
begun at Mr. Fukuoka's farm, and under his supervision in
Spring, 1976. It is not a verbatim translation. Sections of
other works by Mr. Fukuoka, as well as parts of
conversations with him, have been included in the text.
The One- Straw Revolution
Look at this Grain
I believe that a revolution can begin from this one
strand of straw. Seen at a glance, this rice straw may appear
light and insignificant. Hardly anyone would believe that it
could start a revolution. But I have come to realize the
weight and power of this straw. For me, this revolution is
Take a look at these fields of rye and barley. This
ripening grain will yield about 22 bushels (1,300 pounds)
per quarter acre. I believe this matches the top yields in
Ehime Prefecture. And if this equals the best yield in
Ehime Prefecture, it could easily equal the top harvest in
the whole country since this is one of the prime agricultural
areas in Japan. And yet these fields have not been plowed
for twenty-five years.
To plant, I simply broadcast rye and barley seed on
separate fields in the fall, while the rice is still standing. A
few weeks later I harvest the rice and spread the rice straw
back over the fields.
It is the same for the rice seeding. This winter grain
will be cut around the 20th of May. About two weeks
before the crop has fully matured, I broadcast rice seed
over the rye and barley. After the winter grain has been
harvested and the grains threshed, I spread the rye and
barley straw over the field.
I suppose that using the same method to plant rice and
winter grain is unique to this kind of farming. But there is
an easier way. As we walk over to the next field, let me
point out that the rice there was sown last fall at the same
time as the winter grain. The whole year's planting was
finished in that field by New Year's Day.
You might also notice that white clover and weeds are
growing in these fields. Clover seed was sown among the
rice plants in early October, shortly before the rye and
barley. I do not worry about sowing the weeds — they
reseed themselves quite easily.
So the order of planting in this field is like this: in
early October clover is broadcast among the rice; winter
grain then follows in the middle of the month. In early
November, the rice is harvested, and then the next year's
rice seed is sown and straw laid across the field. The rye
and barley you see in front of you were grown this way.
"And yet these fields have not been plowed for twenty-five years."
In caring for a quarter-acre field, one or two people
can do all the work of growing rice and winter grain in a
matter of a few days. It seems unlikely that there could be a
simpler way of raising grain.
This method completely contradicts modern
agricultural techniques. It throws scientific knowledge and
traditional farming know-how right out the window. With
this kind of farming, which uses no machines, no prepared
fertilizer and no chemicals, it is possible to attain a harvest
equal to or greater than that of the average Japanese farm.
The proof is ripening right before your eyes.
Nothing at All
Recently people have been asking me why I started
farming this way so many years ago. Until now I have
never discussed this with anyone. You could say there was
no way to talk about it. It was simply — how would you say
it — a shock, a flash, one small experience that was the
That realization completely changed my life. It is
nothing you can really talk about, but it might be put
something like this: "Humanity knows nothing at all. There
is no intrinsic value in anything, and every action is a futile,
meaningless effort." This may seem preposterous, but if
you put it into words, that is the only way to describe it.
This "thought" developed suddenly in my head when I
was still quite young. I did not know if this insight, that all
human understanding and effort are of no account, was
valid or not, but if I examined these thoughts and tried to
banish them, I could come up with nothing within myself to
contradict them. Only the certain belief that this was so
burned within me.
It is generally thought that there is nothing more
splendid than human intelligence, that human beings are
creatures of special value, and that their creations and
accomplishments as mirrored in culture and history are
wondrous to behold. That is the common belief, anyway.
Since what I was thinking was a denial of this, I was
unable to communicate my view to anyone. Eventually I
decided to give my thoughts a form, to put them into
practice, and so to determine whether my understanding
was right or wrong. To spend my life farming, growing rice
and winter grain — this was the course upon which I settled.
And what was this experience that changed my life?
Forty years ago, when I was twenty-five years old, I
was working for the Yokohama Customs Bureau in the
Plant Inspection Division. My main job was to inspect
incoming and outgoing plants for disease-carrying insects. I
was fortunate to have a good deal of free time, which I
spent in the research laboratory, carrying out investigations
in my specialty of plant pathology. This laboratory was
located next to Yamate Park and looked down on
Yokohama harbor from the bluff. Directly in front of the
building was the Catholic Church, and to the east was the
Ferris Girls' School. It was very quiet, all in all the perfect
environment for carrying on research.
The laboratory pathology researcher was Eiichi
Kurosawa. I had studied plant pathology under Makoto
Okera, a teacher at Gifu Agricultural High School, and
received guidance from Suehiko Igata of the Okayama
Prefecture Agricultural Testing Center.
I was very fortunate to be a student of Professor
Kurosawa. Although he remained largely unknown in the
academic world, he is the man who isolated and raised in
culture the fungus which causes bakanae disease in rice.
He became the first to extract the plant growth hormone,
gibberellin, from the fungus culture. This hormone, when a
small amount is absorbed by the young rice plants, has the
peculiar effect of causing the plant to grow abnormally tall.
When given in excess, however, it brings about the
opposite reaction, causing the plant's growth to be retarded.
No one took much notice of this discovery in Japan, but
overseas it became a topic of active research. Soon
thereafter, an American made use of gibberellin in
developing the seedless grape.
I regarded Kurosawa-san* as my own father, and with
his guidance, built a dissection microscope and devoted
myself to research on decay-causing resin diseases in the
trunk, branches and fruit of American and Japanese citrus
Looking through the microscope, I observed fungus
cultures, crossbred various fungi and created new disease-
causing varieties. I was fascinated with my work. Since the
job required deep, sustained concentration, there were
times when I actually fell unconscious while working in the
This was also a time of youthful high spirits and I did
not spend all of my time shut up in the research room. The
place was the port city of Yokohama, no better spot to fool
around and have a good time. It was during that time that
the following episode occurred. Intent, and with camera in
hand, I was strolling by the wharf and caught sight of a
beautiful woman. Thinking that she would make a great
subject for a photograph, I asked her to pose for me. I
helped her onto the deck of the foreign ship anchored there,
and asked her to look this way and that and took several
pictures. She asked me to send her copies when the photos
were ready. When I asked where to send them, she just
said, "To Ofuna," and left without mentioning her name.
After I had developed the film, I showed the prints to
a friend and asked if he recognized her. He gasped and
said, "That's Mieko Takamine, the famous movie star!"
Right away, I sent ten enlarged prints to her in Ofuna City.
Before long, the prints, autographed, were returned in the
*-san is a formal title of address in Japanese used for both men and
mail. There was one missing, however. Thinking about this
later, I realized that it was the close-up profile shot I had
taken; it probably showed some wrinkles in her face. I was
delighted and felt I had caught a glimpse into the feminine
At other times, clumsy and awkward though I was, I
frequented a dance hall in the Nankingai area. One time I
caught sight there of the popular singer, Noriko Awaya,
and asked her to dance. I can never forget the feeling of
that dance, because I was so overwhelmed by her huge
body that I could not even get my arm around her waist.
In any event, I was a very busy, very fortunate young
man, spending my days in amazement at the world of
nature revealed through the eyepiece of the microscope,
struck by how similar this minute world was to the great
world of the infinite universe. In the evening, either in or
out of love, I played around and enjoyed myself. I believe it
was this aimless life, coupled with fatigue from overwork,
that finally led to fainting spells in the research room. The
consequence of all this was that I contracted acute
pneumonia and was placed in the pneumothorax treatment
room on the top floor of the Police Hospital.
It was winter and through a broken window the wind
blew swirls of snow around the room. It was warm beneath
the covers, but my face was like ice. The nurse would
check my temperature and be gone in an instant.
As it was a private room, people hardly ever looked
in. I felt I had been put out in the bitter cold, and suddenly
plunged into a world of solitude and loneliness. I found
myself face to face with the fear of death. As I think about
it now, it seems a useless fear, but at the time, I took it
I was finally released from the hospital, but I could
not pull myself out of my depression. In what had I placed
my confidence until then? I had been unconcerned and
content, but what was the nature of that complacency? I
was in an agony of doubt about the nature of life and death.
I could not sleep, could not apply myself to my work. In
nightly wanderings above the bluff and beside the harbor, I
could find no relief.
One night as I wandered, I collapsed in exhaustion on
a hill overlooking the harbor, finally dozing against the
trunk of a large tree. I lay there, neither asleep nor awake,
until dawn. I can still remember that it was the morning of
the 15th of May. In a daze I watched the harbor grow light,
seeing the sunrise and yet somehow not seeing it. As the
breeze blew up from below the bluff, the morning mist
suddenly disappeared. Just at that moment a night heron
appeared, gave a sharp cry, and flew away into the
distance. I could hear the flapping of its wings. In an instant
all my doubts and the gloomy mist of my confusion
vanished. Everything I had held in firm conviction,
everything upon which I had ordinarily relied was swept
away with the wind. I felt that I understood just one thing.
Without my thinking about them, words came from my
mouth: "In this world there is nothing at all. . . ."I felt that I
I could see that all the concepts to which I had been
clinging, the very notion of existence itself, were empty
fabrications. My spirit became light and clear. I was
dancing wildly for joy. I could hear the small birds chirping
in the trees, and see the distant waves glistening in the
rising sun. The leaves danced green and sparkling. I felt
that this was truly heaven on earth. Everything that had
possessed me, all the agonies, disappeared like dreams and
illusions, and something one might call "true nature" stood
I think it could safely be said that from the experience
of that morning my life changed completely.
Despite the change, I remained at root an average,
foolish man, and there has been no change in this from then
to the present time. Seen from the outside, there is no more
run-of-the-mill fellow than I, and there has been nothing
extraordinary about my daily life. But the assurance that I
know this one thing has not changed since that time. I have
spent thirty years, forty years, testing whether or not I have
been mistaken, reflecting as I went along, but not once
have I found evidence to oppose my conviction.
*To "understand nothing," in this sense, is to recognize the
insufficiency of intellectual knowledge.
That this realization in itself has great value does not
mean that any special value is attached to me. I remain a
simple man, just an old crow, so to speak. To the casual
observer I may seem either humble or arrogant. I tell the
young people up in my orchard again and again not to try
to imitate me, and it really angers me if there is someone
who does not take this advice to heart. I ask, instead, that
they simply live in nature and apply themselves to their
daily work. No, there is nothing special about me, but what
I have glimpsed is vastly important.
Returning to the Country
On the day following this experience, May 16th, I
reported to work and handed in my resignation on the spot.
My superiors and friends were amazed. They had no idea
what to make of this. They held a farewell party for me in a
restaurant above the wharf, but the atmosphere was a bit
peculiar. This young man who had, until the previous day,
gotten along well with everyone, who did not seem
particularly dissatisfied with his work, who, on the
contrary, had wholeheartedly dedicated himself to his
research, had suddenly announced that he was quitting.
And there I was, laughing happily.
At that time I addressed everyone as follows, "On this
side is the wharf. On the other side is Pier 4. If you think
there is life on this side, then death is on the other. If you
want to get rid of the idea of death, then you should rid
yourself of the notion that there is life on this side. Life and
death are one."
When I said this everyone became even more
concerned about me. "What's he saying? He must be out of
his mind," they must have thought. They all saw me off
with rueful faces. I was the only one who walked out
briskly, in high spirits.
At that time my roommate was extremely worried
about me and suggested that I take a quiet rest, perhaps out
on the Boso Peninsula. So I left. I would have gone
anywhere at all if someone had asked me. I boarded the bus
and rode for many miles gazing out at the checkered
pattern of fields and small villages along the highway. At
one stop, I saw a small sign which read, "Utopia." I got off
the bus there and set out in search of it.
On the coast there was a small inn and, climbing the
cliff, I found a place with a truly wonderful view. I stayed
at the inn and spent the days dozing in the tall grasses
overlooking the sea. It may have been a few days, a week,
or a month, but anyway I stayed there for some time. As
the days passed my exhilaration dimmed, and I began to
reflect on just what had happened. You could say I was
finally coming to myself again.
I went to Tokyo and stayed for a while, passing the
days by walking in the park, stopping people on the street
and talking to them, sleeping here and there. My friend was
worried and came to see how I was getting along. "Aren't
you living in some dream world, some world of illusion?"
he asked. "No," I replied, "it's you who are living in the
dream world." We both thought, "I am right and you are in
the dream world." When my friend turned to say good-bye,
I answered with something like, "Don't say good-bye. To
part is just to part." My friend seemed to have given up
I left Tokyo, passed through the Kansai area* and
came as far south as Kyushu. I was enjoying myself,
drifting from place to place with the breeze. I challenged a
lot of people with my conviction that everything is
meaningless and of no value, that everything returns to
But this was too much, or too little, for the everyday
world to conceive. There was no communication
whatsoever. I could only think of this concept of non-
usefulness as being of great benefit to the world', and
particularly the present world which is moving so rapidly in
the opposite direction. I actually wandered about with the
intention of spreading the word throughout the whole
country. The outcome was that wherever I went I was
ignored as an eccentric. So I returned to my father's farm in
My father was growing tangerines at that time and I
moved into a hut on the mountain and began to live a very
simple, primitive life. I thought that if here, as a farmer of
citrus and grain, I could actually demonstrate my
realization, the world would recognize its truth. Instead of
offering a hundred explanations, would not practicing this
philosophy be the best way? My method of "do-nothing"**
farming began with this thought. It was in the 1 3th year of
the present emperor's reign, 1938.
I settled myself on the mountain and everything went
well up to the time that my father entrusted me with the
richly-bearing trees in the orchard. He had already pruned
the trees to "the shape of sake cups" so that the fruit could
easily be harvested. When I left them abandoned in this
state, the result was that the branches became intertwined,
insects attacked the trees and the entire orchard withered
away in no time.
My conviction was that crops grow themselves and
should not have to be grown. I had acted in the belief that
everything should be left to take its natural course, but I
found that if you apply this way of thinking all at once,
before long things do not go so well. This is abandonment,
not "natural farming."
* Osaka, Kobe, Kyoto.
**With this expression Mr. Fukuoka draws attention to his method's
comparative ease. This way of farming requires hard work, especially
at the harvest, but far less than other methods.
My father was shocked. He said I must rediscipline
myself, perhaps take a job somewhere and return when I
had pulled myself back together. At that time my father
was headman of the village, and it was hard for the other
members of the community to relate to his eccentric son,
who obviously could not get along with the world, living as
he did back in the mountains. Moreover, I disliked the
prospect of military service, and as the war was becoming
more and more violent, I decided to go along humbly with
my father's wishes and take a job.
At that time technical specialists were few. The Kochi
Prefecture Testing Station heard about me, and it came
about that I was offered the post of Head Researcher of
Disease and Insect Control. I imposed upon the kindness of
Kochi Prefecture for almost eight years. At the testing
center I became a supervisor in the scientific agriculture
division, and in research devoted myself to increasing
wartime food productivity. But actually during those eight
years, I was pondering the relationship between scientific
and natural agriculture. Chemical agriculture, which
utilizes the products of human intelligence, was reputed to
be superior. The question which was always in the back of
my mind was whether or not natural agriculture could stand
up against modern science.
When the war ended I felt a fresh breeze of freedom,
and with a sigh of relief I returned to my home village to
take up farming anew.
Toward a Do-Nothing Farming
For thirty years I lived only in my farming and had
little contact with people outside my own community.
During those years I was heading in a straight line toward a
"do-nothing" agricultural method.
The usual way to go about developing a method is to
ask "How about trying this?" or "How about trying that?"
bringing in a variety of techniques one upon the other. This
is modern agriculture and it only results in making the
My way was opposite. I was aiming at a pleasant,
natural way of farming* which results in making the work
easier instead of harder. "How about not doing this? How
about not doing that?" — that was my way of thinking. I
ultimately reached the conclusion that there was no need to
plow, no need to apply fertilizer, no need to make compost,
no need to use insecticide. When you get right down to it,
there are few agricultural practices that are really
The reason that man's improved techniques seem to be
necessary is that the natural balance has been so badly
upset beforehand by those same techniques that the land
has become dependent on them.
This line of reasoning not only applies to agriculture,
but to other aspects of human society as well. Doctors and
medicine become necessary when people create a sickly
environment. Formal schooling has no intrinsic value, but
becomes necessary when humanity creates a condition in
which one must become "educated" to get along.
Before the end of the war, when I went up to the citrus
orchard to practice what I then thought was natural
farming, I did no pruning and left the orchard to itself. The
branches became tangled, the trees were attacked by insects
and almost two acres of mandarin orange trees withered
and died. From that time on the question, "What is the
natural pattern?" was always in my mind. In the process of
arriving at the answer, I wiped out another 400 trees.
Finally I felt I could say with certainty: "This is the natural
* Farming as simply as possible within and in cooperation with the
natural environment, rather than the modern approach of applying
increasingly complex techniques to remake nature entirely for the
benefit of human beings.
"For thirty years I lived only in my farming...."
To the extent that trees deviate from their natural
form, pruning and insect extermination become necessary;
to the extent that human society separates itself from a life
close to nature, schooling becomes necessary. In nature,
formal schooling has no function.
In raising children, many parents make the same
mistake I made in the orchard at first. For example,
teaching music to children is as unnecessary as pruning
orchard trees. A child's ear catches the music. The
murmuring of a stream, the sound of frogs croaking by the
riverbank, the rustling of leaves in the forest, all these
natural sounds are music — true music. But when a variety
of disturbing noises enter and confuse the ear, the child's
pure, direct appreciation of music degenerates. If left to
continue along that path, the child will be unable to hear
the call of a bird or the sound of the wind as songs. That is
why music education is thought to be beneficial to the
The child who is raised with an ear pure and clear
may not be able to play the popular tunes on the violin or
the piano, but I do not think this has anything to do with the
ability to hear true music or to sing. It is when the heart is
filled with song that the child can be said to be musically
Almost everyone thinks that "nature" is a good thing,
but few can grasp the difference between natural and
If a single new bud is snipped off a fruit tree with a
pair of scissors, that may bring about disorder which cannot
be undone. When growing according to the natural form,
branches spread alternately from the trunk and the leaves
receive sunlight uniformly. If this sequence is disrupted the
branches come into conflict, lie one upon another and
become tangled, and the leaves wither in the places where
the sun cannot penetrate. Insect damage develops. If the
tree is not pruned the following year more withered
branches will appear.
Human beings with their tampering do something
wrong, leave the damage unrepaired, and when the adverse
results accumulate, work with all their might to correct
them. When the corrective actions appear to be successful,
they come to view these measures as splendid
accomplishments. People do this over and over again. It is
as if a fool were to stomp on and break the tiles of his roof.
Then when it starts to rain and the ceiling begins to rot
away, he hastily climbs up to mend the damage, rejoicing
in the end that he has accomplished a miraculous solution.
It is the same with the scientist. He pores over books
night and day, straining his eyes and becoming nearsighted,
and if you wonder what on earth he has been working on
all that time — it is to become the inventor of eyeglasses to
Returning to the Source
Leaning against the long handle of my scythe, I pause
in my work in the orchard and gaze out at the mountains
and the village below. I wonder how it is that people's
philosophies have come to spin faster than the changing
The path I have followed, this natural way of farming,
which strikes most people as strange, was first interpreted
as a reaction against the advance and reckless development
of science. But all I have been doing, farming out here in
the country, is trying to show that humanity knows nothing.
Because the world is moving with such furious energy in
the opposite direction, it may appear that I have fallen
behind the times, but I firmly believe that the path I have
been following is the most sensible one.
During the past few years the number of people
interested in natural farming has grown considerably. It
seems that the limit of scientific development has been
reached, misgivings have begun to be felt, and the time for
reappraisal has arrived. That which was viewed as
primitive and backward is now unexpectedly seen to be far
ahead of modern science. This may seem strange at first,
but I do not find it strange at all.
I discussed this with Kyoto University Professor
Iinuma recently. A thousand years ago agriculture was
practiced in Japan without plowing, and it was not until the
Tokugawa Era 300-400 years ago that shallow cultivation
was introduced. Deep plowing came to Japan with Western
agriculture. I said that in coping with the problems of the
future the next generation would return to the non-
To grow crops in an unplowed field may seem at first
a regression to primitive agriculture, but over the years this
method has been shown in university laboratories and
agricultural testing centers across the country to be the
most simple, efficient, and up-to-date method of all.
Although this way of farming disavows modern science, it
now has come to stand in the forefront of modern
I presented this "direct seeding non-cultivation winter
grain/rice succession" in agricultural journals twenty years
ago. From then on it appeared often in print and was
introduced to the public at large on radio and television
programs many times, but nobody paid much attention to it.
Now suddenly, it is a completely different story. You
might say that natural farming has become the rage.
Journalists, professors, and technical researchers are
flocking to visit my fields and the huts up on the mountain.
Different people see it from different points of view,
make their own interpretations, and then leave. One sees it
as primitive, another as backward, someone else considers
it the pinnacle of agricultural achievement, and a fourth
hails it as a breakthrough into the future. In general, people
are only concerned with whether this kind of farming is an
advance into the future or a revival of times past. Few are
able to grasp correctly that natural farming arises from the
unmoving and unchanging center of agricultural
To the extent that people separate themselves from
nature, they spin out further and further from the center. At
the same time, a centripetal effect asserts itself and the
desire to return to nature arises. But if people merely
become caught up in reacting, moving to the left or to the
right, depending on conditions, the result is only more
activity. The non-moving point of origin, which lies outside
the realm of relativity, is passed over, unnoticed. I believe
that even "returning-to-nature" and anti-pollution activities,
no matter how commendable, are not moving toward a
genuine solution if they are carried out solely in reaction to
the overdevelopment of the present age.
Nature does not change, although the way of viewing
nature invariably changes from age to age. No matter the
age, natural farming exists forever as the wellspring of
One Reason That
Natural Farming Has Not Spread
Over the past twenty or thirty years this method of
growing rice and winter grain has been tested over a wide
range of climates and natural conditions. Almost every
prefecture in Japan has run tests comparing yields of "direct
seeding non-cultivation" with those of paddy rice growing
and the usual ridge and furrow rye and barley cultivation.
These tests have produced no evidence to contradict the
universal applicability of natural farming.
And so one may ask why this truth has not spread. I
think that one of the reasons is that the world has become
so specialized that it has become impossible for people to
grasp anything in its entirely. For example, an expert in
insect damage prevention from the Kochi Prefectural
Testing Center came to inquire why there were so few rice
leaf-hoppers in my fields even though I had not used
insecticide. Upon investigating the habitat, the balance
between insects and their natural enemies, the rate of spider
propagation and so on, the leaf-hoppers were found to be
just as scarce in my fields as in the Center's fields, which
are sprayed countless times with a variety of deadly
The professor was also surprised to find that while the
harmful insects were few, their natural predators were far
more numerous in my fields than in the sprayed fields.
Then it dawned on him that the fields were being
maintained in this state by means of a natural balance
established among the various insect communities. He
acknowledged that if my method were generally adopted,
the problem of crop devastation by leaf-hoppers could be
solved. He then got into his car and returned to Kochi.
But if you ask whether or not the testing center's soil
fertility or crop specialists have come here, the answer is
no, they have not. And if you were to suggest at a
conference or gathering that this method, or rather non-
method, be tried on a wide scale, it is my guess that the
prefecture or research station would reply, "Sorry, it's too
early for that. We must first carry out research from every
possible angle before giving final approval." It would take
years for a conclusion to come down.
This sort of thing goes on all the time. Specialists and
technicians from all over Japan have come to this farm.
Seeing the fields from the standpoint of his own specialty,
every one of these researchers has found them at least
satisfactory, if not remarkable. But in the five or six years
since the professor from the research station came to visit
here, there have been few changes in Kochi Prefecture.
This year the agricultural department of Kinki
University has set up a natural farming project team in
which students of several different departments will come
here to conduct investigations. This approach may be one
step nearer, but I have a feeling that the next move may be
two steps in the opposite direction.
Self-styled experts often comment, "The basic idea of
the method is all right, but wouldn't it be more convenient
to harvest by machine?" or, "Wouldn't the yield be greater
if you used fertilizer or pesticide in certain cases or at
certain times?" There are always those who try to mix
natural and scientific farming. But this way of thinking
completely misses the point. The farmer who moves toward
compromise can no longer criticize science at the
Natural farming is gentle and easy and indicates a
return to the source of farming. A single step away from
the source can only lead one astray.
Humanity Does Not Know Nature
Lately I have been thinking that the point must be
reached when scientists, politicians, artists, philosophers,
men of religion, and all those who work in the fields should
gather here, gaze out over these fields, and talk things over
together. I think this is the kind of thing that must happen if
people are to see beyond their specialties.
Scientists think they can understand nature. That is the
stand they take. Because they are convinced that they can
understand nature, they are committed to investigating
nature and putting it to use. But I think an understanding of
nature lies beyond the reach of human intelligence.
I often tell the young people in the huts on the
mountain, who come here to help out and to learn about
natural farming, that anybody can see the trees up on the
mountain. They can see the green of the leaves; they can
see the rice plants. They think they know what green is. In
contact with nature morning and night, they sometimes
come to think that they know nature. But when they think
they are beginning to understand nature, they can be sure
that they are on the wrong track.
Why is it impossible to know nature? That which is
conceived to be nature is only the idea of nature arising in
each person's mind. The ones who see true nature are
infants. They see without thinking, straight and clear. If
even the names of plants are known, a mandarin orange
tree of the citrus family, a pine of the pine family, nature is
not seen in its true form.
An object seen in isolation from the whole is not the
Specialists in various fields gather together and
observe a stalk of rice. The insect disease specialist sees
only insect damage, the specialist in plant nutrition
considers only the plant's vigor. This is unavoidable as
things are now.
As an example, I told the gentleman from the research
station when he was investigating the relation between rice
leaf-hoppers and spiders in my fields, "Professor, since you
are researching spiders, you are interested in only one
among the many natural predators of the leaf-hopper. This
year spiders appeared in great numbers, but last year it was
toads. Before that, it was frogs that predominated. There
are countless variations."
It is impossible for specialized research to grasp the
role of a single predator at a certain time within the
intricacy of insect inter-relationships. There are seasons
when the leaf-hopper population is low because there are
many spiders. There are times when a lot of rain falls and
frogs cause the spiders to disappear, or when little rain falls
and neither leaf-hoppers nor frogs appear at all.
Methods of insect control which ignore the
relationships among the insects themselves are truly
useless. Research on spiders and leaf-hoppers must also
consider the relation between frogs and spiders. When
things have reached this point, a frog professor will also be
needed. Experts on spiders and leaf-hoppers, another on
rice, and another expert on water management will all have
to join the gathering.
Furthermore, there are four or five different kinds of
spiders in these fields. I remember a few years ago when
somebody came rushing over to the house early one
morning to ask me if I had covered my fields with a silk net
or something. I could not imagine what he was talking
about, so I hurried straight out to take a look.
We had just finished harvesting the rice, and
overnight the rice stubble and low-lying grasses had
become completely covered with spider webs, as though
with silk. Waving and sparkling with the morning mist, it
was a magnificent sight.
The wonder of it is that when this happens, as it does
only once in a great while, it only lasts for a day or two. If
you look closely there are several spiders in every square
inch. They are so thick on the field that there is hardly any
space between them. In a quarter acre there must be how
many thousands, how many millions! When you go to look
at the field two or three days later, you see that strands of
web several yards long have broken off and are waving
about in the wind with five or six spiders clinging to each
one. It is like when dandelion fluff or pine cone seeds are
blown away in the wind. The young spiders cling to the
strands and are sent sailing off in the sky.
The spectacle is an amazing natural drama. Seeing
this, you understand that poets and artists will also have to
join in the gathering.
When chemicals are put into a field, this is all
destroyed in an instant. I once thought there would be
nothing wrong with putting ashes from the fireplace onto
the fields.* The result was astounding. Two or three days
later the field was completely bare of spiders. The ashes
had caused the strands of web to disintegrate. How many
thousands of spiders fell victim to a single handful of this
apparently harmless ash? Applying an insecticide is not
simply a matter of eliminating the leaf-hoppers together
with their natural predators. Many other essential dramas of
nature are affected.
The phenomenon of these great swarms of spiders,
which appear in the rice fields in the autumn and like
escape artists vanish overnight, is still not understood. No
one knows where they come from, how they survive the
winter, or where they go when they disappear.
And so the use of chemicals is not a problem for the
entomologist alone. Philosophers, men of religion, artists
and poets must also help to decide whether or not it is
permissible to use chemicals in farming, and what the
results of using even organic fertilizers might be.
We will harvest about 22 bushels (1,300 pounds) of
rice, and 22 bushels of winter grain from each quarter acre
of this land. If the harvest reaches 19 bushels, as it
sometimes does, you might not be able to find a greater
harvest if you searched the whole country. Since advanced
technology had nothing to do with growing this grain, it
stands as a contradiction to the assumptions of modern
science. Anyone who will come and see these fields and
accept their testimony, will feel deep misgivings over the
question of whether or not humans know nature, and of
whether or not nature can be known within the confines of
The irony is that science has served only to show how
small human knowledge is.
*Mr. Fukuoka makes compost of his wood ashes and other organic
household wastes. He applies this to his small kitchen garden.
Four Principles of Natural Farming
Make your way carefully through these fields.
Dragonflies and moths fly up in a flurry. Honeybees buzz
from blossom to blossom. Part the leaves and you will see
insects, spiders, frogs, lizards and many other small
animals bustling about in the cool shade. Moles and
earthworms burrow beneath the surface.
This is a balanced rice field ecosystem. Insect and
plant communities maintain a stable relationship here. It is
not uncommon for a plant disease to sweep through this
area, leaving the crops in these fields unaffected.
And now look over at the neighbor's field for a
moment. The weeds have all been wiped out by herbicides
and cultivation. The soil animals and insects have been
exterminated by poison. The soil has been burned clean of
organic matter and microorganisms by chemical fertilizers.
In the summer you see farmers at work in the fields,
wearing gas masks and long rubber gloves. These rice
fields, which have been farmed continuously for over 1,500
years, have now been laid waste by the exploitive farming
practices of a single generation.
The first is NO cultivation, that is, no plowing or
turning of the soil. For centuries, farmers have assumed
that the plow is essential for growing crops. However, non-
cultivation is fundamental to natural farming. The earth
cultivates itself naturally by means of the penetration of
plant roots and the activity of microorganisms, small
animals, and earthworms.
The second is NO CHEMICAL FERTILIZER OR
PREPARED COMPOST.* People interfere with nature,
and, try as they may, they cannot heal the resulting wounds.
Their careless farming practices drain the soil of essential
nutrients and the result is yearly depletion of the land. If
left to itself, the soil maintains its fertility naturally, in
accordance with the orderly cycle of plant and animal life.
The third is no weeding by tillage or herbicides.
Weeds play their part in building soil fertility and in
balancing the biological community. As a fundamental
principle, weeds should be controlled, not eliminated.
Straw mulch, a ground cover of white clover interplanted
*For fertilizer Mr. Fukuoka grows a leguminous ground cover of white
clover, returns the threshed straw to the fields, and adds a little poultry
with the crops, and temporary flooding provide effective
weed control in my fields.
The fourth is no dependence on chemicals.** From
the time that weak plants developed as a result of such
unnatural practices as plowing and fertilizing, disease and
insect imbalance became a great problem in agriculture.
Nature, left alone, is in perfect balance. Harmful insects
and plant diseases are always present, but do not occur in
nature to an extent which requires the use of poisonous
chemicals. The sensible approach to disease and insect
control is to grow sturdy crops in a healthy environment.
When the soil is cultivated the natural environment is
altered beyond recognition. The repercussions of such acts
have caused the farmer nightmares for countless
generations. For example, when a natural area is brought
under the plow very strong weeds such as crabgrass and
docks sometimes come to dominate the vegetation. When
these weeds take hold, the farmer is faced with a nearly
impossible task of weeding each year. Very often, the land
In coping with problems such as these, the only
sensible approach is to discontinue the unnatural practices
which have brought about the situation in the first place.
The farmer also has a responsibility to repair the damage he
has caused. Cultivation of the soil should be discontinued.
If gentle measures such as spreading straw and sowing
clover are practiced, instead of using man-made chemicals
and machinery to wage a war of annihilation, then the
environment will move back toward its natural balance and
even troublesome weeds can be brought under control.
I have been known, in chatting with soil fertility
experts, to ask, "If a field is left to itself, will the soil's
fertility increase or will it become depleted?" They usually
pause and say something like, "Well, let's see . . . It'll
become depleted. No, not when you remember that when
rice is grown for a long time in the same field without
fertilizer, the harvest settles at about 9 bushels (525
pounds) per quarter acre. The earth would become neither
enriched nor depleted."
* * Mr. Fukuoka grows his grain crops without chemicals of any kind.
On some orchard trees he occasionally uses a machine oil emulsion for
the control of insect scales. He uses no persistent or broad-spectrum
poisons, and has no pesticide "program."
These specialists are referring to a cultivated, flooded
field. If nature is left to itself, fertility increases. Organic
remains of plants and animals accumulate and are
decomposed on the surface by bacteria and fungi. With the
movement of rainwater, the nutrients are taken deep into
the soil to become food for microorganisms, earthworms,
and other small animals. Plant roots reach to the lower soil
strata and draw the nutrients back up to the surface.
If you want to get an idea of the natural fertility of the
earth, take a walk to the wild mountainside sometime and
look at the giant trees that grow without fertilizer and
without cultivation. The fertility of nature, as it is, is
beyond reach of the imagination.
Cut down the natural forest cover, plant Japanese red
pine or cedar trees for a few generations, and the soil will
become depleted and open to erosion. On the other hand,
take a barren mountain with poor, red clay soil, and plant
pine or cedar with a ground cover of clover and alfalfa. As
the green manure* enriches and softens the soil, weeds and
bushes grow up below the trees, and a rich cycle of
regeneration is begun. There are instances in which the top
four inches of soil have become enriched in less than ten
* Ground cover drops such as clover, vetch and alfalfa which condition
and nourish the soil
For growing agricultural crops, also, the use of
prepared fertilizer can be discontinued. For the most part, a
permanent green manure cover and the return of all the
straw and chaff to the soil will be sufficient. To provide
animal manure to help decompose the straw, I used to let
ducks loose in the fields. If they are introduced as
ducklings while the seedlings are still young, the ducks will
grow up together with the rice. Ten ducks will supply all
the manure necessary for a quarter acre and will also help
to control the weeds.
I did this for many years until the construction of a
national highway made it impossible for the ducks to get
across the road and back to the coop. Now I use a little
chicken manure to help decompose the straw. In other areas
ducks or other small grazing animals are still a practical
Adding too much fertilizer can lead to problems. One
year, right after the rice transplanting, I contracted to rent 1
1 Va acres of freshly planted rice fields for a period of one
year. I ran all the water out of the fields and proceeded
without chemical fertilizer, applying only a small amount
of chicken manure. Four of the fields developed normally.
But in the fifth, no matter what I did, the rice plants came
up too thickly and were attacked by blast disease. When I
asked the owner about this, he said he had used the field
over the winter as a dump for chicken manure.
* Ground cover crops such as clover, vetch, and
alfalfa which condition and nourish the soil.
Using straw, green manure, and a little poultry
manure, one can get high yields without adding compost or
commercial fertilizer at all. For several decades now, I have
been sitting back, observing nature's method of cultivation
and fertilization. And while watching, I have been reaping
bumper crops of vegetables, citrus, rice, and winter grain as
a gift, so to speak, from the natural fertility of the earth.
Coping with Weeds
Here are some key points to remember in dealing with
As soon as cultivation is discontinued, the number of
weeds decreases sharply. Also, the varieties of weeds in a
given field will change.
If seeds are sown while the preceding crop is still
ripening in the field, those seeds will germinate ahead of
the weeds. Winter weeds sprout only after the rice has been
harvested, but by that time the winter grain already has a
head start. Summer weeds sprout right after the harvest of
barley and rye, but the rice is already growing strongly.
Timing the seeding in such a way that there is no interval
between succeeding crops gives the grain a great advantage
over the weeds. Directly after the harvest, if the whole field
is covered with straw, the germination of weeds is stopped
short. White clover sowed with the grain as a ground cover
also helps to keep weeds under control. The usual way to
deal with weeds is to cultivate the soil. But when you
cultivate, seeds lying deep in the soil, which would never
have germinated otherwise, are stirred up and given a
chance to sprout. Furthermore, the quick-sprouting, fast-
growing varieties are given the advantage under these
conditions. So you might say that the farmer who tries to
control weeds by cultivating the soil is, quite literally,
sowing the seeds of his own misfortune.
Let us say that there are still some people who think
that if chemicals are not used their fruit trees and field
crops will wither before their very eyes. The fact of the
matter is that by using these chemicals, people have
unwittingly brought about the conditions in which this
unfounded fear may become reality.
Recently Japanese red pines have been suffering
severe damage from an outbreak of pine bark weevils.
Foresters are now using helicopters in an attempt to stop
the damage by aerial spraying. I do not deny that this is
effective in the short run, but I know there must be another
Weevil blights, according to the latest research, are
not a direct infestation, but follow upon the action of
mediating nematodes. The nematodes breed within the
trunk, block the transport of water and nutrients, and
eventually cause the pine to wither and die. The ultimate
cause, of course, is not yet clearly understood.
Nematodes feed on a fungus within the tree's trunk.
Why did this fungus begin to spread so prolifically within
the tree? Did the fungus begin to multiply after the
nematode had already appeared? Or did the nematode
appear because the fungus was already present? It boils
down to a question of which came first, the fungus or the
Furthermore, there is another microbe about which
very little is known, which always accompanies the fungus,
and a virus toxic to the fungus. Effect following effect in
every direction, the only thing that can be said with
certainly is that the pine trees are withering in unusual
People cannot know what the true cause of the pine
blight is, nor can they know the ultimate consequences of
their "remedy." If the situation is meddled with
unknowingly that only sows the seeds for the next great
catastrophe. No, I cannot rejoice in the knowledge that
immediate damage from the weevil has been reduced by
chemical spraying. Using agricultural chemicals is the most
inept way to deal with problems such as these, and will
only lead to greater problems in the future.
These four principles of natural farming (no
cultivation, no chemical fertilizer or prepared compost, no
weeding by tillage or herbicides, and no dependence on
chemicals) comply with the natural order and lead to the
replenishment of nature's richness. All my rumblings have
run along this line of thought. It is the heart of my method
of growing vegetables, grain, and citrus.
Farming Among the Weeds
Many different kinds of weeds are growing with the
grain and clover in these fields. Rice straw spread over the
field last fall has already decomposed into rich humus. The
harvest will yield about 22 bushels (1,300 pounds) to the
Yesterday, when Professor Kawase, a leading
authority on pasture grasses, and Professor Hiroe, who is
researching ancient plants, saw the fine spread of barley
and green manure in my fields, they called it a wonderful
work of art. A local farmer who had expected to see my
fields completely overgrown by weeds was surprised to
find the barley growing so vigorously among the many
other plants. Technical experts have also come here, seen
the weeds, seen the watercress and clover growing all
around, and have gone away shaking their heads in
Twenty years ago, when I was encouraging the use of
permanent ground cover in fruit orchards, there was not a
blade of grass to be seen in fields or orchards anywhere in
the country. Seeing orchards such as mine, people came to
understand that fruit trees could grow quite well among the
weeds and grasses. Today orchards covered with grasses
are common throughout Japan and those without grass
cover have become rare.
It is the same with fields of grain. Rice, barley, and
rye can be successfully grown while the fields are covered
with clover and weeds all year long.
Let me review in greater detail the annual seeding and
harvesting schedule in these fields. In early October, before
the harvest, white clover and the seeds of fast-growing
varieties of winter grain are broadcast among the ripening
stalks of rice.* The clover and barley or rye sprout and
grow an inch or two by the time the rice is ready to be
harvested. During the rice harvest, the sprouted seeds are
trampled by the feet of the harvesters, but recover in no
time at all. When the threshing is completed, the rice straw
is spread over the field.
* White clover is sown about one pound per quarter acre, winter grains
6/4 to 13 pounds per quarter acre. For inexperienced farmers or fields
with hard or poor soil, it is safer to sow more seed in the beginning. As
the soil gradually improves from the decomposing straw and green
manure, and as the farmer becomes more familiar with the direct
seeding non-cultivation method, the amount of seed can be reduced.
"In one day it is possible to make enough pellets to seed several acres."
If rice is sown in the autumn and left uncovered, the
seeds are often eaten by mice and birds, or they sometimes
rot on the ground, and so I enclose the rice seeds in little
clay pellets before sowing. The seed is spread out on a flat
pan or basket and shaken back and forth in a circular
motion. Fine powdered clay is dusted over them and a thin
mist of water is added from time to time. This forms a tiny
pellet about a half inch in diameter.
In October, after the rice is harvested and the next year's seed is sown,
straw is scattered across the field.
There is another method for making the pellets. First
the unhulled rice seed is soaked for several hours in water.
The seeds are removed and mixed with moist clay by
kneeding with hands or feet. Then the clay is pushed
through a screen of chicken wire to separate it into small
clods. The clods should be left to dry for a day or two or
until they can be easily rolled between the palms into
pellets. Ideally there is one seed in each pellet. In one day it
is possible to make enough pellets to seed several acres.
Depending on conditions, I sometimes enclose the
seeds of other grains and vegetables in pellets before
Between mid-November and mid-December is a good
time to broadcast the pellets containing the rice seed among
the young barley or rye plants, but they can also be
broadcast in spring.* A thin layer of chicken manure is
spread over the field to help decompose the straw, and the
year's planting is complete.
In May the winter grain is harvested. After threshing,
all of the straw is scattered over the field.
Water is then allowed to stand in the field for a week
or ten days. This causes the weeds and clover to weaken
and allows the rice to sprout up through the straw. Rain
water alone is sufficient for the plants during June and July;
in August fresh water is run through the field about once a
week without being allowed to stand. The autumn harvest
is now at hand.
Such is the yearly cycle of rice/winter grain
cultivation by the natural method. The seeding and
harvesting so closely follow the natural pattern that it could
be considered a natural process rather than an agricultural
It takes only an hour or two for one farmer to sow the
seeds and spread the straw across a quarter acre. With the
exception of the job of harvesting, winter grain can be
grown single-handedly, and just two or three people can do
all the work necessary to grow a field of rice using only the
traditional Japanese tools. There is probably no easier,
simpler method for growing grain. It involves little more
than broadcasting seed and spreading straw, but it has taken
me over thirty years to reach this simplicity.
*Rice is sown 4!4 to 9 pounds per quarter acre. Toward the end of April
Mr. Fukuoka checks the germination of the fall-sown seed and
broadcasts more pellets as needed. Also see footnote, pg. 42.
This way of farming has evolved according to the
natural conditions of the Japanese islands, but I feel that
natural farming could also be applied in other areas and to
the raising of other indigenous crops. In areas where water
is not so readily available, for example, upland rice or other
grains such as buckwheat, sorghum or millet might be
grown. Instead of white clover, another variety of clover,
alfalfa, vetch or lupine might prove a more suitable field
cover. Natural farming takes a distinctive form in
accordance with the unique conditions of the area in which
it is applied.
By December the winter grain sprouts through the straw; the rice seeds
remain dormant until spring.
In making the transition to this kind of farming, some
weeding, composting or pruning may be necessary at first,
but these measures should be gradually reduced each year.
Ultimately, it is not the growing technique which is the
most important factor, but rather the state of mind of the
The winter grain is harvested in May. The rice seedlings are trampled
by the feet of the harvesters but soon recover.
Farming with Straw
Spreading straw might be considered rather
unimportant, but it is fundamental to my method of
growing rice and winter grain. It is connected with
everything, with fertility, with germination, with weeds,
with keeping away sparrows, with wate3r management. In
actual practice and in theory, the use of straw in farming is
a crucial issue. This is something that I cannot seem to get
people to understand.
Spreading the Straw Uncut
The Okayama Testing Center is now trying direct
seeding rice-growing in 80 percent of its experimental
fields. When I suggested that they scatter the straw uncut,
they apparently thought this could not be right, and ran the
experiments after chopping it up with a mechanical
shredder. When I went to visit the testing a few years ago, I
found that the fields had been divided into those using
shredded straw, uncut straw, and no straw at all. This is
exactly what I did for a long time and since the uncut
works best, it is uncut straw that I use.
Mr. Fujii, a teacher at Yasuki Agricultural High
School in Shimane Prefecture, wanted to try direct seeding
and came to visit my farm. I suggested that he spread uncut
straw over his field. He returned the next year and reported
that the test had failed. After listening carefully to his
account, I found that he had laid the straw down straight
and neat like a Japanese backyard garden mulch. If you do
it like that, the seeds will not germinate well at all. With the
straw of rye and barley, too, if it is spread too neatly the
rice sprouts will have a hard time getting through. It is best
to toss the straw around every which way, just as though
the stalks had fallen naturally.
Rice straw works well as a mulch for winter grain,
and the straw of winter grain works best for the rice. I want
this to be well understood. There are several diseases of
rice which will infect the crop if fresh rice straw is applied
to the field. These diseases of rice will not infect the winter
grain, however, and if the rice straw is spread in the fall, it
will be completely decomposed by the time the rice sprouts
up the following spring. Fresh rice straw is safe for other
grains, as is buckwheat straw, and the straw of other grain
species may be used for rice and buckwheat. In general,
fresh straw of winter grains, such as wheat, rye, and barley,
should not be used as mulch for other winter grains, as
disease damage may result.
All of the straw and the hulls which remain after
threshing the previous harvest should be returned to the
Straw Enriches the Earth
Scattering straw maintains soil structure and enriches
the earth so that prepared fertilizer becomes unnecessary.
This, of course, is connected with non-cultivation. My
fields may be the only ones in Japan which have not been
plowed for over twenty years, and the quality of the soil
improves with each season. I would estimate that the
surface layer, rich in humus, has become enriched to a
depth of more than four inches during these years. This is
largely the result of returning to the soil everything grown
in the field but the grain itself.
No Need to Prepare Compost
There is no need to prepare compost. I will not say
that you do not need compost — only that there is no need to
work hard making it. If straw is left lying on the surface of
the field in the spring or fall and is covered with a thin
layer of chicken manure or duck droppings, in six months it
will completely decompose.
To make compost by the usual method, the farmer
works like crazy in the hot sun, chopping up the straw,
adding water and lime, turning the pile, and hauling it out
to the field. He puts himself through all this grief because
he thinks it is a "better way." I would rather see people just
scattering straw or hulls or woodchips over their fields.
Travelling along the Tokaido line in western Japan I
have noticed that the straw is being cut more coarsely than
when I first started talking about spreading it uncut. I have
to give the farmers credit. But the modern day experts are
still saying that it is best to use only so many hundred
pounds of straw per quarter acre. Why don't they say to put
all the straw back in the field? Looking out the train
window, you can see farmers who have cut and scattered
about half the straw and cast the rest aside to rot in the rain.
If all the farmers in Japan got together and started to
put all the straw back on their fields, the result would be an
enormous amount of compost returned to the earth.
For hundreds of years farmers have taken great care in
preparing the seed beds for growing strong, healthy rice
seedlings. The small beds were tidied up as if they were the
family altars. The earth was cultivated, sand and the ashes
of burned rice hulls were spread all around, and a prayer
was offered that the seedlings would thrive.
Threshing the crop with the traditional pedal-powered rotating drum
(Kyoto). The grains are then winnowed and stored; the straw is
returned to the fields.
It is not unreasonable, then, that the other villagers
around here thought I was out of my mind to broadcast
seed while the winter grain was still standing in the field,
with weeds and bits of decomposing straw scattered
Of course the seeds germinate well when sown
directly onto a well-turned field, but if it rains and the field
turns to mud, you cannot go in and walk around, and the
sowing must be postponed. The non-cultivation method is
safe on this score, but on the other hand, there is trouble
with small animals such as moles, crickets, mice, and slugs
who like to eat the seeds. The clay pellet enclosing the seed
solves this problem.
In seeding winter grain, the usual method is to sow the
seeds and then cover them with soil. If the seeds are set in
too deeply, they will rot. I used to drop the seeds into tiny
holes in the soil, or into furrows without covering them
with soil, but I experienced many failures with both
Lately I have gotten lazy and instead of making
furrows or poking holes in the ground, I wrap the seeds in
clay pellets and toss them directly onto the field.
Germination is best on the surface, where there is exposure
to oxygen. I have found that where these pellets are
covered with straw, the seeds germinate well and will not
rot even in years of heavy rainfall.
Straw Helps to Cope
with Weeds and Sparrows
Ideally, one quarter acre will provide about 900
pounds of barley straw. If all of the straw is spread back
over the field, the surface will be completely covered. Even
a troublesome weed such as crabgrass, the most difficult
problem in the direct seeding non-cultivation method, can
be held under control.
Sparrows have caused me a lot of headaches. Direct
seeding cannot succeed if there is no reliable way to cope
with the birds, and there are many places where direct
seeding has been slow to spread for just this reason. Many
of you may have the same problem with sparrows, and you
will know what I mean.
I can remember times when these birds followed right
behind me and devoured all the seeds I had sown even
before I had a chance to finish planting the other side of the
field. I tried scarecrows and nets and strings of rattling
cans, but nothing seemed to work very well. Or if one of
these methods happened to work, its effectiveness did not
last more than a year or two.
My own experience has shown that by sowing the
seed while the preceding crop is still in the field so that
they are hidden among grasses and clover, and by
spreading a mulch of rice, rye, or barley straw as soon as
the mature crop has been harvested, the problem of
sparrows can be dealt with most effectively.
I have made a lot of mistakes while experimenting
over the years and have experienced failures of all kinds. I
probably know more about what can go wrong growing
agricultural crops than anyone else in Japan. When I
succeeded for the first time in growing rice and winter
grain with the non-cultivation method, I felt as joyful as
Columbus must have felt when he discovered America.
Growing Rice in a Dry Field
By the beginning of August, the rice plants in the
neighbors' fields are already waist high, while the plants in
my fields are only about half that size. People who visit
here toward the end of July are always skeptical, and ask,
"Fukuoka-san, is this rice going to turn out all right?"
"Sure," I answer. "No need to worry."
I do not try to raise tall fast-growing plants with big
leaves. Instead, I keep the plants as compact as possible.
Keep the head small, do not overnourish the plants, and let
them grow true to the natural form of the rice plant.
Usually rice plants three or four feet tall produce
luxuriant leaves and give the impression that the plant is
going to produce a lot of grain, but it is only the leafy stalks
that are growing strongly. Starch production is great but
efficiency is low, and so much energy is expended in
vegetative growth that not much is left to be stored in the
grains. For example, if tall, oversized plants yield 2,000
pounds of straw the yield of rice will be about 1,000-1,200
pounds. For small rice plants, such as those grown in my
fields, 2,000 pounds of straw yields 2,000 pounds of rice.
In a good harvest the yield of rice from my plants will
reach about 2,400 pounds; that is, it will be 20 percent
heavier than the straw.
Rice plants grown in a dry field do not grow so tall.
Sunlight is received uniformly, reaching to the base of the
plants and to the lower leaves. One square inch of leaf is
enough to produce six grains of rice. Three or four small
leaves are more than enough to produce a hundred grains of
rice to the head. I sow a bit thickly and wind up with about
250-300 grain-bearing stalks (20 to 25 plants) per square
yard. If you have many sprouts and do not try to grow large
plants, you can reap great harvests with no difficulty. This
is also true for wheat, rye, buckwheat, oats, millet, and
Of course the usual method is to keep several inches
of water in the paddy throughout the growing season.
Farmers have been growing rice in water for so many
centuries that most people believe that it cannot be grown
any other way. The cultivated varieties of "wet- field" rice
are relatively strong if grown in a flooded field, but it is not
good for the plant to be grown in this way. Rice plants
grow best when the water content in the soil is between 60
and 80 percent of its water-holding capacity. When the
field is not flooded plants develop stronger roots and are
extremely resistant to attacks by disease and insects.
The main reason for growing rice in a flooded field is
to control the weeds by creating an environment in which
only a limited variety of weeds can survive. Those which
do survive, however, must be pulled by hand or uprooted
with a hand weeding tool. By the traditional method, this
time-consuming and backbreaking job must be repeated
several times in each growing season.
In June, during the monsoon season, I hold water in
the field for about one week. Few of the dry-field weeds
can survive even so short a period without oxygen, and the
clover also withers and turns yellow. The idea is not to kill
the clover, but only to weaken it so as to allow the rice
seedlings to get established. When the water is drained (as
soon as possible) the clover recovers and spreads to cover
the field's surface again beneath the growing rice plants.
After that, I hardly do anything in the way of water
management. For the first half of the season, I do not
irrigate at all. Even in years when very little rain falls the
soil stays moist below the layer of straw and green manure.
In August I let in water a little at a time but never allow it
In June water is held in the field to weaken the weeds and clover and
allow the rice to sprout through the ground cover.
If you show a rice plant from my field to a farmer he
will know immediately that it looks as a rice plant should
and that it has the ideal shape. He will know that the seeds
were sprouted naturally and not transplanted, that the plant
could not have been grown in a lot of water, and that
chemical fertilizer was not applied. Any farmer can tell
these things as a matter of course by looking at the overall
form of the plant, the shape of the roots, and the spacing of
the joints on the main stem. If you understand the ideal
form, it is just a matter of how to grow a plant of that shape
under the unique conditions of your own field.
I do not agree with Professor Matsushima's idea that it
is best when the fourth leaf from the tip of the plant is the
longest. Sometimes when the second or third leaf is the
longest, you get the best results. If growth is held back
while the plant is young, the top leaf or the second leaf
often becomes longest and a large harvest is still obtained.
Professor Matsushima's theory is derived from
experiments using fragile rice plants grown with fertilizer
in a nursery bed and later transplanted. My rice, on the
other hand, was grown in accordance with the natural life
cycle of the rice plant, just as though it were growing wild.
I wait patiently for the plant to develop and mature at its
In recent years I have been trying out an old variety of
glutinous rice from the south. Each seed, sown in fall,
produces an average of 12 stalks with about 250 grains per
head. With this variety I believe I will one day be able to
reap a harvest close to the greatest theoretically obtainable
from the solar energy reaching the field. In some areas of
my fields harvests of 27/4 bushels (1,650 pounds) per
quarter acre have already been realized with this variety.
Seen with the doubting eye of the technician, my
method of growing rice could be said to be a short-term or
provisional result. "If the experiment were continued
longer, some sort of problem would certainly show up," he
might say. But I have been growing rice in this manner for
over twenty years. The yields continue to increase and the
soil becomes richer every year.
I also grow several varieties of citrus on the hillsides
near my home. After the war, when I first began farming, I
started with 1% acres of citrus orchard and % acre of rice
fields, but now the citrus orchards alone cover 12/4 acres. I
came by this land by taking over surrounding hillsides
which had been abandoned. I then cleared them by hand.
The pine trees on several of those slopes had been
clear-cut a few years earlier, and all I did was dig holes in a
contour line and plant the citrus seedlings. Sprouts had
already appeared from the logged stumps and, as time
passed, Japanese pampas grass, cogon grass, and bracken
began to thrive. The citrus tree seedlings became lost in a
tangle of vegetation.
I cut most of the pine sprouts, but allowed some to
grow back for a windbreak. Then I cut back the thicket
growth and grassy ground cover and planted clover.
After six or seven years the citrus trees finally bore
fruit. I dug away the earth behind the trees to form terraces,
and the orchard now appears little different from any other.
Of course I maintained the principles of not
cultivating, not using chemical fertilizer, and not using
insecticides or weed killers. One interesting thing was that,
at first, while the seedlings were growing beneath the
resprouted forest trees, there was no evidence of damaging
insects such as the common arrowhead scale. Once the
thicket and resprouted trees were cut away, the land
became less wild and more like an orchard. Only then did
these insects appear.
To allow a fruit tree to follow its natural form from
the beginning is best. The tree will bear fruit every year and
there is no need to prune. A citrus tree follows the same
pattern of growth as a cedar or pine, that is, a single central
trunk growing straight with branches spreading out
alternately. Of course all varieties of citrus do not grow to
exactly the same size and shape. The Hassaku and
Shaddock varieties grow very tall, winter Unshu mandarin
orange trees are short and stocky, the early varieties of
Satsuma mandarin orange trees are small at maturity, but
each has a single central trunk.
Do Not Kill the Natural Predators
I think that everyone knows that since the most
common orchard "pests," ruby scale and horned wax scale,
have natural enemies, there is no need to apply insecticide
to keep them under control. At one time the insecticide
Fusol was used in Japan. The natural predators were
completely exterminated, and the resulting problems still
survive in many prefectures. From this experience I think
most farmers have come to realize that it is undesirable to
eliminate predators because in the long run greater insect
damage will result.
As for the mites and scales which do appear, if a
solution of machine oil, a chemical relatively harmless to
the predators, is diluted 200 to 400 times and is sprayed
lightly in midsummer, and the insect communities are left
to achieve their natural balance after that, the problem will
generally take care of itself. This will not work if an
organic phosphorous pesticide has already been used in
June or July since the predators are also killed by this
I am not saying that I advocate the use of so-called
harmless "organic" sprays such as salt-garlic solution or
machine oil emulsion, nor am I in favor of introducing
foreign predator species into the orchard to control
troublesome insects. Trees weaken and are attacked by
insects to the extent that they deviate from the natural form.
If trees are growing along a pattern of unnatural
development and are left abandoned in this state, the
branches become tangled and insect damage results. I have
already told how I wiped out several acres of citrus trees
But if the trees are gradually corrected, they will
return at least approximately to their natural form. The
trees become stronger and measures to control insects
become unnecessary. If a tree is planted carefully and
allowed to follow the natural form from the beginning,
there is no need for pruning or sprays of any kind. Most
seedling trees have been pruned or their roots have been
damaged at the nursery before they are transplanted to the
orchard, which makes pruning necessary right from the
In order to improve the orchard soil, I tried planting
several varieties of trees. Among them was the Morishima
acacia. This tree grows year round, putting out new buds in
all seasons. The aphids which feed on these buds began to
multiply in great numbers. Lady bugs fed on the aphids and
soon they too began to increase. After the lady bugs had
devoured all of the aphids, they climbed down to the citrus
trees and started to feed on other insects such as mites,
arrowhead scales, and cottony-cushion scales.
Growing fruit without pruning, fertilizing, or using
chemical sprays is possible only within a natural
It goes without saying that soil improvement is the
fundamental concern of orchard management. If you use
chemical fertilizer the trees do grow larger, but year by
year the soil becomes depleted. Chemical fertilizer drains
the earth of its vitality. If it is used even for one generation
the soil suffers considerably.
There is no wiser course in fanning than the path of
wholesome soil improvement. Twenty years ago, the face
of this mountain was bare red clay, so hard you could not
stick a shovel into it. A good deal of the land around here
was like that. People grew potatoes until the soil was
exhausted and then the fields were left abandoned. You
might say that, rather than growing citrus and vegetables up
here, I have been helping to restore the fertility of the soil.
Let us talk about how I went about restoring those
barren mountain slopes. After the war the technique of
deeply cultivating a citrus orchard and digging holes for
adding organic matter was being encouraged. When I
returned from the testing center, I tried doing this in my
own orchard. After a few years I came to the conclusion
that this method is not only physically exhausting, but, as
far as improving the soil is concerned, is just plain useless.
At first I buried straw and ferns which I had brought
down from the mountain. Carrying loads of 90 pounds and
more was a big job, but after two or three years there was
not even enough humus to scoop up in my hand. The
trenches I had dug to bury the organic matter caved in and
turned into open pits. Next I tried burying wood. It seems
that straw would be the best aid for improving the soil, but
judging from the amount of soil formed, wood is better.
This is fine as long as there are trees to cut. But for
someone without trees nearby, it is better to grow the wood
right in the orchard than to haul it from a distance.
In my orchard there are pines and cedar trees, a few
pear trees, persimmons, loquats, Japanese cherries, and
many other native varieties growing among the citrus trees.
One of the most interesting trees, though not a native, is the
Morishima acacia. This is the same tree I mentioned earlier
in connection with lady bugs and natural predator
protection. The wood is hard, the flowers attract bees, and
the leaves are good for fodder. It helps to prevent insect
damage in the orchard, acts as a windbreak, and the
rhizobium bacteria living within the roots fertilize the soil.
"Twenty years ago the face of this mountain was bare red clay so hard
you could not stick a shovel into it."
This tree was introduced to Japan from Australia
some years ago and grows faster than any tree I have ever
seen. It sends out a deep root in just a few months and in
six or seven years it stands as tall as a telephone pole. In
addition, this tree is a nitrogen fixer, so if 6 to 10 trees are
planted to the quarter acre, soil improvement can be carried
out in the deep soil strata and there is no need to break your
back hauling logs down the mountain.
As for the surface layer of the soil, I sowed a mixture
of white clover and alfalfa on the barren ground. It was
several years before they could take hold, but finally they
came up and covered the orchard hillsides. I also planted
Japanese radish (daikon). The roots of this hearty vegetable
penetrate deeply into the soil, adding organic matter and
opening channels for air and water circulation. It reseeds
itself easily and after one sowing you can almost forget
As the soil became richer, the weeds started to make a
comeback. After seven or eight years, the clover almost
disappeared among the weeds, so I tossed out a little more
clover seed in late summer after cutting back the weeds.*
As a result of this thick weed / clover cover, over the
past twenty-five years, the surface layer of the orchard soil,
which had been hard red clay, has become loose, dark
colored, and rich with earthworms and organic matter.
' With the green manure fertilizing the topsoil and the
roots of the Morishima acacia improving the soil deep
down, you can do quite well without fertilizer and there is
no need to cultivate between the orchard trees. With tall
trees for windbreaks, citrus in the middle, and a green
manure cover below, I have found a way to take it easy and
let the orchard manage itself.
* During the summer Mr. Fukuoka cuts the weeds, briers, and tree
sprouts growing beneath the orchard trees with a scythe.
Growing Vegetables Like Wild Plants
Next let us talk about growing vegetables. One can
either use a backyard garden to supply kitchen vegetables
for the household or else grow vegetables on open, unused
For the backyard garden it is enough to say that you
should grow the right vegetables at the right time in soil
prepared by organic compost and manure. The method of
growing vegetables for the kitchen table in old Japan
blended well with the natural pattern of life. Children play
under fruit trees in the backyard. Pigs eat scraps from the
kitchen and root around in the soil. Dogs bark and play and
the farmer sows seeds in the rich earth. Worms and insects
grow up with the vegetables, chickens peck at the worms
and lay eggs for the children to eat.
The typical rural family in Japan grew vegetables in
this way until not more than twenty years ago.
Plant disease was prevented by growing the traditional
crops at the right time, keeping the soil healthy by returning
all organic residues to the soil, and rotating crops. Harmful
insects were picked off by hand, and also pecked by
chickens. In southern Shikoku there was a kind of chicken
that would eat worms and insects on the vegetables without
scratching the roots or damaging the plants.
Some people may be skeptical at first about using
animal manure and human waste, thinking it primitive or
dirty. Today people want "clean" vegetables, so farmers
grow them in hothouses without using soil at all. Gravel
culture, sand culture, and hydroponics are getting more
popular all the time. The vegetables are grown with
chemical nutrients and by light which is filtered through a
vinyl covering. It is strange that people have come to think
of these vegetables grown chemically as "clean" and safe to
eat. Foods grown in soil balanced by the action of worms,
microorganisms, and decomposing animal manure are the
cleanest and most wholesome of all.
In growing vegetables in a "semi-wild" way, making
use of a vacant lot, riverbank or open wasteland, my idea is
to just toss out the seeds and let the vegetables grow up
with the weeds. I grow my vegetables on the mountainside
in the spaces between the citrus trees.
The important thing is knowing the right time to plant.
For the spring vegetables the right time is when the winter
weeds are dying back and just before the summer weeds
have sprouted.* For the fall sowing, seeds should be tossed
out when the summer grasses are fading away and the
winter weeds have not yet appeared.
It is best to wait for a rain which is likely to last for
several days. Cut a swath in the weed cover and put out the
vegetable seeds. There is no need to cover them with soil;
just lay the weeds you have cut back over the seeds to act
as a mulch and to hide them from the birds and chickens
until they can germinate. Usually the weeds must be cut
back two or three times in order to give the vegetable
seedlings a head start, but sometimes just once is enough.
Where the weeds and clover are not so thick, you can
simply toss out the seeds. The chickens will eat some of
them, but many will germinate. If you plant in a row or
furrow, there is a chance that beetles or other insects will
devour many of the seeds. They walk in a straight line.
Chickens also spot a patch which has been cleared and
come to scratch around. It is my experience that it is best to
scatter the seeds here and there.
Vegetables grown in this way are stronger than most
people think. If they sprout up before the weeds, they will
not be overgrown later on. There are some vegetables, such
as spinach and carrots, which do not germinate easily.
Soaking the seeds in water for a day or two, then wrapping
them in a little clay pellet, should solve the problem.
If sown a bit heavily, Japanese radish, turnips, and
various leafy green autumn vegetables will be strong
enough to compete successfully with the winter and early
spring weeds. A few always go unharvested, re-seeding
themselves year after year. They have a unique flavor and
make very interesting eating.
It is an amazing sight to see many unfamiliar
vegetables thriving here and there on the mountain.
Japanese radishes and turnips grow half in the soil and half
above the surface. Carrots and burdock often grow short
and fat with many root hairs, and I believe their tart,
slightly bitter flavor is that of their original wild
predecessors. Garlic, Japanese pearl onions, and Chinese
leeks, once planted, will come up by themselves year after
* This method of growing vegetables has been developed by Mr.
Fukuoka by trial and experiment in accordance with local conditions.
Where he lives there are dependable spring rains, and a climate warm
enough to grow vegetables in all seasons. Over the years he has come
to know which vegetables can be grown among which weeds and the
kind of care each requires.
In most parts of North America the specific method Mr. Fukuoka uses
for growing vegetables would be impractical. It is up to each farmer
who would grow vegetables in the semi-wild manner to develop a
technique appropriate to the land and the natural vegetation.
Legumes are best sown in spring. Cowpeas and
kidney beans are easy to grow and give high yields. In
growing peas, red azuki beans, soy beans, pinto beans, and
kidney beans, early germination is essential. They will have
difficulty germinating without enough rain, and you must
keep an eye out for birds and insects.
Tomatoes and eggplants are not strong enough to
compete with the weeds when they are young, and so
should be grown in a starter bed and later transplanted.
Instead of staking them up, let the tomatoes run along the
ground. Roots will grow down from the nodes along the
main stem and new shoots will come up and bear fruit.
As for the cucumbers, the creeping-on-the-ground
variety is best. You have to take care of the young plants,
occasionally cutting the weeds, but after that, the plants
will grow strong. Lay out bamboo, or the branches of a tree
and the cucumbers will twine all over them. The branches
keep the fruit just above the ground so that it does not rot.
This method of growing cucumbers also works for
melons and squash.
Potatoes and taros are very strong plants. Once
planted they will come up in the same place every year and
never be overgrown by weeds. Just leave a few in the
ground when you harvest. If the soil is hard, grow Japanese
radish first. As their roots grow they cultivate and soften
the earth and after a few seasons, potatoes can be grown in
I have found white clover useful in holding back
weeds. It grows thickly and can smother out even strong
weeds such as mugwort and crabgrass. If the clover is sown
mixed with the vegetable seeds, it will act as a living
mulch, enriching the soil, and keeping the ground moist
and well aerated.
As with vegetables, it is important to choose the right
time to sow the clover seed. Late summer or fall sowing is
best; the roots develop during the cold months, giving the
clover a jump on the annual spring grasses. The clover will
also do well if sown early in spring. Either broadcasting or
planting in rows about twelve inches apart is fine. Once the
clover takes hold, you do not need to sow it again for five
or six years.
The main aim of this semi-wild vegetable growing is
to grow crops as naturally as possible on land which would
otherwise be left unused. If you try to use improved
techniques or to get bigger yields the attempt will end in
failure. In most cases the failure will be caused by insects
or diseases. If various kinds of herbs and vegetables are
mixed together and grown among the natural vegetation,
damage by insects and diseases will be minimal and there
will be no need to use sprays or to pick bugs off by hand.
You can grow vegetables anyplace there is a varied
and vigorous growth of weeds. It is important to become
familiar with the yearly cycle and growing pattern of the
weeds and grasses. By looking at the variety and the size of
the weeds in a certain area you can tell what kind of soil is
there and whether or not a deficiency exists.
In my orchard I grow burdock, cabbage, tomatoes,
carrots, mustard, beans, turnips and many other kinds of
herbs and vegetables in this semi-wild way.
The Terms for Abandoning Chemicals
Today Japanese rice growing stands at an important
crossroads. Farmers and specialists are confused as to
which path to follow — to continue paddy transplanting, or
to move over to direct seeding, and if the latter, to choose
cultivation or non-cultivation. I have been saying for the
past twenty years that direct seeding non-cultivation will
eventually prove to be the best way. The speed with which
direct seeding is already spreading in Okayama Prefecture
There are those, however, who say that turning to a
non-chemical agriculture to supply the nation's food is
unthinkable. They say that chemical treatments must be
used to control the three great rice diseases — stem rot, rice
blast disease, and bacterial leaf blight. But if farmers would
stop using weak, "improved" seed varieties, stop adding too
much nitrogen to the soil, and reduce the amount of
irrigation water so that strong roots could develop, these
diseases would all but disappear and chemical sprays
would become unnecessary.
At first, the red clay soil in my fields was weak and
unsuited for growing rice. Brown spot disease frequently
occurred. But as the field gradually grew in fertility, the
incidence of brown spot disease decreased. Lately there
have been no outbreaks at all.
With insect damage the situation is the same. The
most important thing is not to kill the natural predators.
Keeping the field continuously under water or irrigating
with stagnant or polluted water will also lead to insect
problems. The most troublesome insect pests, summer and
fall leaf-hoppers, can be kept under control by keeping
water out of the field.
Green rice leaf-hoppers, living in the weeds over the
winter, may become a virus host. If this happens the result
is often a loss of ten to twenty percent from rice blast
disease. If chemicals are not sprayed, however, there will
be many spiders present in the field and one can generally
leave the work to them. Spiders are sensitive to even the
slightest human tampering and care must always be taken
on this account.
Most people think that if chemical fertilizer and
insecticides were abandoned agricultural yields would fall
to a fraction of the present level. Experts on insect damage
estimate that losses in the first year after giving up
insecticides would be about five percent. Loss of another
five percent in abandoning chemical fertilizer would
probably not be far mistaken.
That is, if the use of water in the rice field were
curtailed, and the chemical fertilizer and pesticide spraying
encouraged by the Agricultural Co-op were abandoned, the
average losses in the first year would probably reach about
ten percent. The recuperative power of nature is great
beyond imagining and after this initial loss, I believe
harvests would increase and eventually surpass their
While I was with the Kochi Testing Station, I carried
out experiments in the prevention of stem borers. These
insects enter and feed on the stem of the rice plant, causing
the stalk to turn white and wither. The method of
estimating the damage is simple: you count how many
white stalks or rice there are. In a hundred plants, ten or
twenty percent of the stalks may be white. In severe cases,
when it appears as though the whole crop has been ruined,
the actual damage is about thirty percent.
To try to avoid this loss, one field of rice was sprayed
with insecticide to kill the stem borers; another field was
left untreated. When the results were calculated it turned
out that the untreated field with many withered stalks had
the higher yield. At first I could not believe it myself and
thought it was an experimental error. But the data appeared
to be accurate, so I investigated further.
What happened was that by attacking the weaker
plants the stem borers produced a kind of thinning effect.
The withering of some stems left more room for the- rest of
the plants. Sunlight was then able to penetrate to the lower
leaves. These remaining rice plants grew more strongly as a
result, sent up more grain-bearing stalks, and produced
more grains to the head than they could have without the
thinning. When the density of stalks is too great and insects
do not thin out the excess, the plants look healthy enough,
but in many cases the harvest is actually lower.
Looking at the many research testing center reports
you can find the results of using practically every chemical
spray on record. But it is generally not realized that only
half of these results are reported. Of course there is no
intention of hiding anything, but when the results are
published by the chemical companies as in advertisements,
it is the same as if the conflicting data had been concealed.
Results which show lower yields, as in the experiment with
the stem borers, are checked off as experimental
discrepancies and discarded. There are, of course, cases in
which insect extermination results in increased yields, but
there are other cases in which the yield is reduced. Reports
of the latter rarely appear in print.
Among agricultural chemicals, herbicides are
probably the most difficult to dissuade farmers from using.
Since ancient times the farmer has been afflicted with what
might be termed "the battle against the weeds." Plowing,
cultivating between the rows, the ritual of rice transplanting
itself, all are mainly aimed at eliminating weeds. Before the
development of herbicides, a farmer had to walk many
miles through the flooded rice fields each season, pushing a
weeding tool up and down the rows and pulling weeds by
hand. It is easy to understand why these chemicals were
received as a godsend. In the use of straw and clover and
the temporary flooding of the fields, I have found a simple
way to control weeds without either the hot, hard labor of
weeding or the use of chemicals.
A mudwalled hut in the orchard.
Limits of the Scientific Method
Before researchers become researchers they should
become philosophers. They should consider what the
human goal is, what it is that humanity should create.
Doctors should first determine at the fundamental level
what it is that human beings depend on for life.
In applying my theories to farming, I have been
experimenting in growing my crops in various ways,
always with the idea of developing a method close to
nature. I have done this by whittling away unnecessary
Modern scientific agriculture, on the other hand, has
no such vision. Research wanders about aimlessly, each
researcher seeing just one part of the infinite array of
natural factors which affect harvest yields. Furthermore,
these natural factors change from place to place and from
year to year.
Even though it is the same quarter acre, the farmer
must grow his crops differently each year in accordance
with variations in weather, insect populations, the condition
of the soil, and many other natural factors. Nature is
everywhere in perpetual motion; conditions are never
exactly the same in any two years.
Modern research divides nature into tiny pieces and
conducts tests that conform neither with natural law nor
with practical experiences. The results are arranged for the
convenience of research, not according to the needs of the
farmer. To think that these conclusions can be put to use
with invariable success in the farmer's field is a big
Recently Professor Tsuno of Ehime University wrote
a lengthy book on the relationship of plant metabolism to
rice harvests. This professor often comes to my field, digs
down a few feet to check the soil, brings students along to
measure the angle of sunlight and shade and whatnot, and
takes plant specimens back to the lab for analysis. I often
ask him, "When you go back, are you going to try non-
cultivation direct seeding?" He laughingly answers, "No,
I'll leave the applications to you. I'm going to stick to
So that is how it is. You study the function of the
plant's metabolism and its ability to absorb nutrients from
the soil, write a book, and get a doctorate in agricultural
science. But do not ask if your theory of assimilation is
going to be relevant to the yield.
Even if you can explain how metabolism affects the
productivity of the top leaf when the average temperature is
eighty-four degrees (Fahrenheit), there are places where the
temperature is not eighty-four degrees. And if the
temperature is eighty-four degrees in Ehime this year, next
year it may only be seventy-five degrees. To say that
simply stepping up metabolism will increase starch
formation and produce a large harvest is a mistake. The
geography and topography of the land, the condition of the
soil, its structure, texture, and drainage, exposure to
sunlight, insect relationships, the variety of seed used, the
method of cultivation — truly an infinite variety of factors —
must all be considered. A scientific testing method which
takes all relevant factors into account is an impossibility.
You hear a lot of talk these days about the benefits of
the "Good Rice Movement" and the "Green Revolution."
Because these methods depend on weak, "improved" seed
varieties, it becomes necessary for the farmer to apply
chemicals and insecticides eight or ten times during the
growing season. In a short time the soil is burned clean of
microorganisms and organic matter. The life of the soil is
destroyed and crops come to be dependent on nutrients
added from the outside in the form of chemical fertilizer.
It appears that things go better when the farmer
applies "scientific" techniques, but this does not mean that
science must come to the rescue because the natural
fertility is inherently insufficient. It means that rescue is
necessary because the natural fertility has been destroyed.
By spreading straw, growing clover, and returning to
the soil all organic residues, the earth comes to possess all
the nutrients needed to grow rice and winter grain in the
same field year after year. By natural farming, fields that
have already been damaged by cultivation or the use of
agricultural chemicals can be effectively rehabilitated.
One Farmer Speaks Out
There is a great deal of concern in Japan these days,
and justifiably so, about the deteriorating quality of the
environment and the resulting contamination of food.
Citizens have organized boycotts and large demonstrations
to protest the indifference of political and industrial leaders.
But all of this activity, if carried out in the present spirit,
only results in wasted effort. To talk about cleaning up
specific cases of pollution is like treating symptoms of a
disease while the root cause of the malady continues to
Two years ago, for instance, a conference for the
purpose of discussing pollution was organized by the
Agricultural Management Research Center, together with
the Organic Agricultural Council and the Nada Co-op. The
chairman of the conference was Mr. Teruo Ichiraku, who is
head of the Japanese Organic Farmers Association, and is
also one of the most powerful figures in the government's
Agricultural Co-op. The recommendations of this agency
as to which crops and seed varieties should be grown, how
much fertilizer should be used and which chemicals should
be applied are followed by nearly every village farmer in
Because such a diversity of influential people were
taking part, I attended with hopes that far-reaching action
could be decided upon and put into effect.
From the standpoint of publicizing the food pollution
problem, this conference could be said to have been
successful. But like the other meetings, the discussions
degenerated into a series of highly technical reports by
research specialists and personal accounts of the horrors of
food contamination. No one seemed willing to address the
problem at its fundamental level.
In a discussion of mercury poisoning of tuna, for
example, the representative of the Fisheries Bureau first
spoke of how truly frightening the problem had become. At
that time mercury pollution was being discussed every day
on the radio and in the newspapers, and so everyone
listened closely to hear what he had to say.
The speaker said that the amount of mercury in the
bodies of tuna, even those taken in the Antarctic Ocean and
near the North Pole, was extremely high. However, when a
laboratory specimen taken several hundred years ago was
dissected and analyzed, this fish, contrary to expectation,
also contained mercury. His tentative conclusion suggested
that mercury consumption was necessary for the fish to
The people in the audience looked at each other in
disbelief. The purpose of the meeting was supposed to have
been to determine how to deal with the pollution which had
already contaminated the environment, and to take
measures to correct it. Instead, here was this representative
from the Fisheries Bureau saying that mercury is necessary
for the tuna's survival. This is what I mean when I say that
people do not grasp the root cause of pollution but only see
it from a narrow and superficial perspective.
I stood up and suggested that we take joint action to
set up, then and there, a concrete plan to deal with
pollution. Would it not be better to talk straightforwardly
about discontinuing the use of the chemicals which are
causing the pollution? Rice, for example can be grown very
well without chemicals, as can citrus, and it is not difficult
to grow vegetables that way either. I said that it could be
done, and that I had been doing it on my farm for years, but
that as long as the government continued to endorse the use
of chemicals, no one else would give clean farming a try.
Members of the Fisheries Bureau were present at the
meeting, as were people from the Ministry of Agriculture
and Forestry and the Agricultural Co-op. If they and the
chairman of the conference, Mr. Ichiraku, had really
wanted to get things going and had suggested that farmers
throughout the country should try growing rice without
chemicals, sweeping changes could have been made.
There was one great problem, however. If crops were
to be grown without agricultural chemicals, fertilizer, or
machinery, the giant chemical companies would become
unnecessary and the government's Agricultural Co-op
Agency would collapse. To put the matter right out front, I
said that the Co-ops and the modern agricultural policy-
makers depend on large capital investment in fertilizer and
agricultural machinery for their base of power. To do away
with machinery and chemicals would bring about a
complete change in the economic and social structures.
Therefore, I could see no way that Mr. Ichiraku, the Co-ops
or the government officials could speak out in favor of
measures to clean up pollution.
When I spoke out in this way, the chairman said, "Mr.
Fukuoka, you are upsetting the conference with your
remarks," shutting my mouth for me. Well, that's what
A Modest Solution
to a Difficult Problem
So it appears that government agencies have no
intention of stopping pollution. A second difficulty is that
all aspects of the problem of food pollution must be
brought together and solved at the same time. A problem
cannot be solved by people who are concerned with only
one or another of its parts.
To the extent that the consciousness of everyone is not
fundamentally transformed, pollution will not cease.
For example, the farmer thinks that the Inland Sea* is
of no concern to him. He thinks that it is the officials of the
Fisheries Bureau whose business it is to look after fish, and
that it is the job of the Environmental Council to take care
of ocean pollution. In this way of thinking lies the problem.
The most commonly used chemical fertilizers,
ammonium sulfate, urea, super phosphate and the like, are
used in large amounts, only fractions of which are absorbed
by the plants in the field. The rest leaches into streams and
rivers, eventually flowing into the Inland Sea. These
nitrogen compounds become food for algae and plankton
which multiply in great numbers, causing the red tide to
appear. Of course, industrial discharge of mercury and
other contaminating wastes also contribute to the pollution,
but for the most part water pollution in Japan comes from
So it is the farmer who must shoulder major
responsibility for the red tide. The farmer who applies
polluting chemicals to his field, the corporations who
manufacture these chemicals, the village officials who
believe in the convenience of chemicals and offer technical
guidance accordingly — if each of these people does not
ponder the problem deeply there will be no solving the
question of water pollution.
As it is now, only those who are most directly affected
become active in trying to cope with pollution problems, as
in the case of the local fishermen's struggle against the big
oil companies after the oil spill near Mizushima. Or else
some professor proposes to cope with the problem by
opening a channel through the belly of Shikoku Island to
let the relatively clean water of the Pacific Ocean flow into
*The small sea between the islands of Honshu, Kyushu and Shikoku.
the Inland Sea. This sort of thing is researched and
attempted time after time, but a true solution can never
come about in this way.
The fact of the matter is that whatever we do, the
situation gets worse. The more elaborate the
countermeasures, the more complicated the problems
Suppose a pipe were laid across Shikoku and water
were pumped up from the Pacific and poured into the
Inland Sea. Let us say that this may possibly clean up the
Inland Sea. But where is the electric power going to come
from to run the factory which will manufacture the steel
pipe, and how about the power required to pump the water
up? A nuclear power plant would become necessary. To
construct such a system, concrete and all the various
materials must be assembled, and a uranium processing
center built as well. When solutions develop in this way,
they only sow the seeds for second- and third-generation
pollution problems which will be more difficult than the
previous ones, and more widespread.
It is like the case of the greedy farmer who opens the
irrigation inlet too wide and lets the water come rushing
into his rice paddy. A crack develops and the ridge
crumbles away. At this point reinforcement work becomes
necessary. The walls are strengthened and the irrigation
channel enlarged. The increased volume of water only
increases the potential danger, and the next time the ridge
weakens, even greater effort will be required for
When a decision is made to cope with the symptoms
of a problem, it is generally assumed that the corrective
measures will solve the problem itself. They seldom do.
Engineers cannot seem to get this through their heads.
These countermeasures are all based on too narrow a
definition of what is wrong. Human measures and
countermeasures proceed from limited scientific truth and
judgment. A true solution can never come about in this
My modest solutions, such as spreading straw and
growing clover, create no pollution. They are effective
because they eliminate the source of the problem. Until the
modern faith in big technological solutions can be
overturned, pollution will only get worse.
*By "limited scientific truth and judgment," Mr. Fukuoka is referring to
the world as perceived and constructed by the human intellect. He
considers this perception to be limited to a framework defined by its
The Fruit of Hard Times
Consumers generally assume that they have nothing to
do with causing agricultural pollution. Many of them ask
for food that has not been chemically treated. But
chemically treated food is marketed mainly in response to
the preferences of the consumer. The consumer demands
large, shiny, unblemished produce of regular shape. To
satisfy these desires, agricultural chemicals which were not
used five or six years ago have come rapidly into use.
How did we get into such a predicament? People say
they do not care if cucumbers are straight or crooked, and
that fruit does not necessarily have to be beautiful on the
outside. But take a look inside the wholesale markets in
Tokyo sometime if you want to see how the price responds
to consumer preferences. When the fruit looks just a little
better, you get a premium of five or ten cents a pound.
When the fruit is classed "Small," "Medium" or "Large,"
the price per pound may double or triple with each increase
The consumer's willingness to pay high prices for
food produced out of season has also contributed to the
increased use of artificial growing methods and chemicals.
Last year, Unshu mandarin oranges grown in hothouses for
summer shipment * fetched prices ten to twenty times
higher than seasonal mandarins. Instead of the usual price
of 10 to 15 cents per pound, outrageous prices of $.80,
$1.00, even $1.75 to the pound were paid. And so, if you
invest several thousand dollars to install the equipment, buy
the necessary fuel, and work the extra hours, you can
realize a profit.
Farming out of season is becoming more and more
popular all the time. To have mandarin oranges just one
month earlier, the people in the city seem happy enough to
pay for the farmer's extra investment in labor and
equipment. But if you ask how important it is for human
beings to have this fruit a month earlier, the truth is that it
is not important at all, and money is not the only price paid
for such indulgence.
Furthermore, a coloring agent, not used a few years
ago, is now being used. With this chemical, the fruit
becomes fully colored one week earlier. Depending on
whether the fruit is sold a week before or after the 10th of
October, the price either doubles or falls by half, so the
* This fruit ripens naturally late in the fall.
farmer applies color-accelerating chemicals, and after the
harvest places the fruit in a ripening room for gas
But when the fruit is shipped out early, it is not sweet
enough, and so artificial sweeteners are used. It is generally
thought that chemical sweeteners have been prohibited, but
the artificial sweetener sprayed on citrus trees has not been
specifically outlawed. The question is whether or not it
falls into the category of "agricultural chemicals." In any
case, almost everybody is using it.
The fruit is then taken to the co-op fruit-sorting
center. In order to separate the fruit into large and small
sizes, each one is sent rolling several hundred yards down a
long conveyor. Bruising is common. The larger the sorting
center, the longer the fruit is bounced and tumbled about.
After a water washing the mandarin oranges are sprayed
with preservatives and a coloring agent is brushed on.
Finally, as a finishing touch, a paraffin wax solution is
applied and the fruit is polished to a glossy shine.
Nowadays fruit is really "run through the mill."
So from the time just before the fruit has been
harvested to the time it is shipped out and put on the
display counter, five or six chemicals are used. This is not
to mention the chemical fertilizers and sprays that were
used while the crops were growing in the orchard. And this
is all because the consumer wants to buy fruit just a little
more attractive. This little edge of preference has put the
farmer in a real predicament.
These measures are not taken because the farmer likes
to work this way, or because the officials of the Ministry of
Agriculture enjoy putting the farmer through all this extra
labor, but until the general sense of values changes, the
situation will not improve.
When I was with the Yokohama Customs Office forty
years ago, Sunkist lemons and oranges were being handled
in this way. I was strongly opposed to introducing this
system to Japan, but my words could not prevent the
current system from being adopted.
If one farm household or co-op takes up a new
process such as the waxing of mandarin oranges, because
of the extra care and attention the profit is higher. The other
agricultural co-ops take notice and soon they, too, adopt the
new process. Fruit which is not wax-treated no longer
brings so high a price. In two or three years waxing is taken
up all over the country. The competition then brings the
prices down, and all that is left to the farmer is the burden
of hard work and the added costs of supplies and
equipment. Now he must apply the wax.
Of course the consumer suffers as a result. Food that
is not fresh can be sold because it looks fresh. Speaking
biologically, fruit in a slightly shriveled state is holding its
respiration and energy consumption down to the lowest
possible level. It is like a person in meditation: his
metabolism, respiration, and calorie consumption reach an
extremely low level. Even if he fasts, the energy within the
body will be conserved. In the same way, when mandarin
oranges grow wrinkled, when fruit shrivels, when
vegetables wilt, they are in the state that will preserve their
food value for the longest possible time.
It is a mistake to try to maintain the mere appearance
of freshness, as when shopkeepers sprinkle water on their
vegetables over and over again. Although the vegetables
are kept looking fresh, their flavor and nutritional value
At any rate, all the agricultural cooperatives and
collective sorting centers have been integrated and
expanded to carry out such unnecessary activities. This is
called "modernization." The produce is packed and loaded
onto the great delivery system and shipped off to the
To say it in a word, until there is a reversal of the
sense of values which cares more for size and appearance
than for quality, there will be no solving the problem of
The Marketing of Natural Food
For the past several years I have sent 88 to 110
bushels (5,000-6,500 pounds) of rice to natural food stores
in various parts of the country. I have also shipped 400
thirty-five -pound cartons of mandarin oranges in ten-ton
trucks to the co-op living association in Tokyo's Suginami
district. The chairman of the co-op wanted to sell
unpolluted produce, and this formed the basis of our
The first year was quite successful but there were also
some complaints. The size of the fruit was too varied, the
exterior was a bit dirty, the skin was sometimes shriveled
and so on. I had shipped the fruit in plain unmarked
cartons, and there were some people who suspected,
without reason, that the fruit was just an assortment of
"seconds." I now pack the fruit in cartons lettered "natural
Since natural food can be produced with the least
expense and effort, I reason that it should be sold at the
cheapest price. Last year, in the Tokyo area, my fruit was
the lowest priced of all. According to many shopkeepers
the flavor was the most delicious. It would be best, of
course, if the fruit could be sold locally, eliminating the
time and expense involved in shipping, but even so, the
price was right, the fruit was free of chemicals and it tasted
good. This year I have been asked to ship two or three
times as much as before.
At this point the question arises as to how far the
direct sale of natural food can spread. I have one hope in
this regard. Lately chemical fruit growers have been driven
into an extremely tight economic pinch, and this makes the
production of natural food more attractive to them. No
matter how hard the average farmer works applying
chemicals, coloring, waxing, and so on, he can only sell his
fruit for a price that will barely cover expenses. This year,
even a farm with exceptionally fine fruit can only expect to
realize a profit of less than five cents per pound; The
farmer producing slightly lower quality fruit will end up
with nothing at all.
Since prices have slumped in the past few years, the
agricultural co-ops and sorting centers have become very
strict, selecting fruit of only the very highest quality.
Inferior fruit cannot be sold to the sorting centers. After
putting in a full day's work in the orchard harvesting the
mandarin oranges, loading them into boxes, and carrying
them to the sorting shed, the farmer must work until eleven
or twelve o'clock at night, picking over his fruit, one by
one, keeping only those of perfect size and shape.*
The "good ones" sometimes average only 25% to 50%
of the total crop, and even some of these are rejected by the
co-op. If the profit remaining is a mere two or three cents
per pound, it is considered pretty good. The poor citrus
farmer is working hard these days and still barely breaking
Growing fruit without applying chemicals, using
fertilizer, or cultivating the soil involves less expense, and
the farmer's net profit is therefore higher. The fruit I ship
out is practically unsorted; I just pack the fruit into a box,
send them off to the market, and get to bed early.
The other farmers in my neighborhood realize that
they are working very hard only to end up with nothing in
their pockets. The feeling is growing that there is nothing
strange about growing natural food products, and the
producers are ready for a change to farming without
chemicals. But until natural food can be distributed locally,
the average farmer will worry about not having a market in
which to sell his produce.
As for the consumer, the common belief has been that
natural food should be expensive. If it is not expensive,
people suspect that it is not natural food. One retailer
remarked to me that no one would buy natural produce
unless it is priced high.
I still feel that natural food should be sold more
cheaply than any other. Several years ago I was asked to
send the honey gathered in the citrus orchard and the eggs
laid by the hens on the mountain to a natural food store in
Tokyo. When I found out that the merchant was selling
them at extravagant prices, I was furious. I knew that a
merchant who would take advantage of his customers in
that way would also mix my rice with other rice to increase
the weight, and that it, too, would reach the consumer at an
unfair price. I immediately stopped all shipments to that
If a high price is charged for natural food, it means
that the merchant is taking excessive profits. Furthermore,
if natural foods are expensive, they become luxury foods
and only rich people are able to afford them.
If natural food is to become widely popular, it must be
available locally at a reasonable price. If the consumer will
only adjust to the idea that low prices do not mean that the
food is not natural, then everyone will begin thinking in the
*The rejected fruit is sold for about half price to a private company to
be squeezed for juice.
Commercial Agriculture Will Fail
When the concept of commercial agriculture first
appeared, I opposed it. Commercial agriculture in Japan is
not profitable for the farmer. Among merchants the rule is
that if an article which originally costs a certain amount is
further processed, an extra cost is added when the article is
sold. But in Japanese agriculture it is not so
straightforward. Fertilizer, feed, equipment, and chemicals
are purchased at prices fixed abroad, and there is no telling
what the actual cost per pound will be when these imported
products are used. It is completely up to the merchants.
And with selling prices also fixed, the farmer's income is at
the mercy of forces beyond his control.
In general, commercial agriculture is an unstable
proposition. The farmer would do much better by growing
the food he needs without thinking about making money. If
you plant one grain of rice, it becomes more than one
thousand grains. One row of turnips makes enough pickles
for the entire winter. If you follow this line of thought, you
will have enough to eat, more than enough, without
struggling. But if you decide to try to make money instead,
you get on board the profit wagon, and it runs away with
I have been thinking lately about white leghorns.
Because the improved variety of white leghorn lays over
200 days a year, raising them for profit is considered good
business. When raised commercially these chickens are
cooped up in long rows of small cages not unlike cells in a
penitentiary, and through their entire lives their feet are
never allowed to touch the ground. Disease is common and
the birds are pumped full of antibiotics and fed a formula
diet of vitamins and hormones.
It is said that the local chickens that have been kept
since ancient times, the brown and black shamo and chabo,
have only half the egg-laying capacity. As a result these
birds have all but disappeared in Japan. I let two hens and
one rooster loose to run wild on the mountainside and after
one year there were twenty-four. When it seemed that few
eggs were being laid, the local birds were busy raising
In the first year, the leghorn has a greater egg-laying
efficiency than the local chickens, but after one year the
white leghorn is exhausted and cast aside, whereas the
shamo we started with has become ten healthy birds
running about beneath the orchard trees. Furthermore, the
white leghorns lay well because they are raised on
artificially enriched feed which is imported from foreign
countries and must be bought from the merchants. The
local birds scratch around and feed freely on seeds and
insects in the area and lay delicious, natural eggs.
Setting out for a day's work.
If you think commercial vegetables are nature's own,
you are in for a big surprise. These vegetables are a watery
chemical concoction of nitrogen, phosphorous, and potash,
with a little help from the seed. And that is just how they
taste. And commercial chicken eggs (you can call them
eggs if you like) are nothing more than a mixture of
synthetic feed, chemicals, and hormones. This is not a
product of nature but a man made synthetic in the shape of
an egg. The farmer who produces vegetables and eggs of
this kind, I call a manufacturer.
Now if it is manufacturing you are talking about, you
will have to do some fancy figuring if you want to make a
profit. Since the commercial farmer is not making any
money, he is like a merchant who cannot handle the
abacus. That sort of fellow is regarded as a fool by other
people and his profits are soaked up by politicians and
In olden times there were warriors, farmers,
craftsmen, and merchants. Agriculture was said to be closer
to the source of things than trade or manufacturing, and the
farmer was said to be "the cupbearer of the gods." He was
always able to get by somehow or other and have enough to
But now there is all this commotion about making
money. Ultra-fashionable produce such as grapes,
tomatoes, and melons are being grown. Flowers and fruit
are being produced out-of-season in hothouses. Fish
breeding has been introduced and cattle are raised because
profits are high.
This pattern shows clearly what happens when
farming climbs aboard the economic roller coaster.
Fluctuations in prices are violent. There are profits, but
there are losses as well.
Failure is inevitable. Japanese agriculture has lost
sight of its direction and has become unstable. It has
strayed away from the basic principles of agriculture and
has become a business.
Research for Whose Benefit?
When I first began direct-seeding rice and winter
grain, I was planning to harvest with a hand sickle and so I
thought it would be more convenient to set the seeds out in
regular rows. After many attempts, dabbling about as an
amateur, I produced a handmade seeding tool. Thinking
that this tool might be of practical use to other farmers, I
brought it to the man at the testing center. He told me that
since we were in an age of large-sized machinery he could
not be bothered with my "contraption."
Next I went to a manufacturer of agricultural
equipment. I was told here that such a simple machine, no
matter how much you tried to make of it, could not be sold
for more than $3.50 apiece. "If we made a gadget like that,
the farmers might start thinking they didn't need the tractors
we sell for thousands of dollars." He said that nowadays the
idea is to invent rice planting machines quickly, sell them
head over heels for as long as possible, then introduce
something newer. Instead of small tractors, they wanted to
change over to larger-sized models, and my device was, to
them, a step backward. To meet the demands of the times,
resources are poured into furthering useless research, and to
this day my patent remains on the shelf.
It is the same with fertilizer and chemicals. Instead of
developing fertilizer with the farmer in mind, the emphasis
is on developing something new, anything at all, in order to
make money. After the technicians leave their jobs at the
testing centers, they move right over to work for the large
Recently I was talking with Mr. Asada, a technical
official in the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, and he
told me an interesting story. The vegetables grown in
hothouses are extremely unsavory. Hearing that the
eggplants shipped out in winter have no vitamins and the
cucumbers no flavor, he researched the matter and found
the reason: certain of the sun's rays could not penetrate the
vinyl and glass enclosures in which the vegetables were
being grown. His investigation moved over to the lighting
system inside the hothouses.
The fundamental question here is whether or not it is
necessary for human beings to eat eggplants and cucumbers
during the winter. But, this point aside, the only reason they
are grown during the winter is that they can be sold then at
a good price. Somebody develops a means to grow them,
and after some time passes, it is found that these vegetables
have no nutritional value. Next, the technician thinks that if
the nutrients are being lost, a way must be found to prevent
that loss. Because the trouble is thought to be with the
lighting system, he begins to research light rays. He thinks
everything will be all right if he can produce a hothouse
eggplant with vitamins in it. I was told that there are some
technicians who devote their entire lives to this kind of
Naturally, since such great efforts and resources have
gone into producing this eggplant, and the vegetable is said
to be high in nutritional value, it is tagged at an even higher
price and sells well. "If it is profitable, and if you can sell
it, there can't be anything wrong with it."
No matter how hard people try, they cannot improve
upon naturally grown fruits and vegetables. Produce grown
in an unnatural way satisfies people's fleeting desires but
weakens the human body and alters the body chemistry so
that it is dependent upon such foods. When this happens,
vitamin supplements and medicines become necessary.
This situation only creates hardships for the farmer and
suffering for the consumer.
What is Human Food?
The other day someone from NHK television came by
and asked me to say something about the flavor of natural
food. We talked, and then I asked him to compare the eggs
laid by the hens in the coop down below with those of the
chickens running free up in the orchard. He found that the
yolks of the eggs laid by the chickens cooped up on the
typical chicken ranch were soft and watery and their color
was pale yellow. He observed that the yolks of the eggs
laid by the chickens living wild on the mountain were firm
and resilient and bright orange in color. When the old man
who runs the sushi restaurant in town tasted one of these
natural eggs, he said that this was a "real egg," just like in
the old days, and rejoiced as if it were some precious
Again, up in the tangerine orchard, there are many
different vegetables growing among the weeds and clover.
Turnips, burdock, cucumbers and squash, peanuts, carrots,
edible chrysanthemums, potatoes, onions, leaf mustard,
cabbage, several varieties of beans, and many other herbs
and vegetables are all growing together. The conversation
turned to whether or not these vegetables, which had been
grown in a semi-wild manner, had a better flavor than those
grown in the home garden or with the aid of chemical
fertilizer in the fields. When we compared them, the taste
was completely different, and we determined that the
"wild" vegetables possessed a richer flavor.
I told the reporter that when vegetables are grown in a
prepared field using chemical fertilizer, nitrogen,
phosphorus and potash are supplied. But when vegetables
are grown with natural ground cover in soil naturally rich
in organic matter, they get a more balanced diet of
nutrients. A great variety of weeds and grasses means that a
variety of essential nutrients and micronutrients are
available to the vegetables. Plants which grow in such
balanced soil have a more subtle flavor.
Edible herbs and wild vegetables, plants growing on
the mountain and in the meadow, are very high in
nutritional value and are also useful as medicine. Food and
medicine are not two different things: they are the front and
back of one body. Chemically grown vegetables may be
eaten for food, but they cannot be used as medicine.
When you gather and eat the seven herbs of spring,*
your spirit becomes gentle. And when you eat bracken
shoots, osmund and shepherd's purse, you become calm. To
calm restless, impatient feelings, shepherd's purse is the
best of all. They say that if children eat shepherd's purse,
willow buds or insects living in trees, this will cure violent
crying tantrums, and in the old days children were often
made to eat them. Daikon (Japanese radish) has for its
ancestor the plant called nazuna (shepherd's purse), and this
word nazuna is related to the word nagomu, which means
to be softened. Daikon is the "herb that softens one's
Among wild foods insects are often overlooked.
During the war, when I worked at the research center, I was
assigned to determine what insects in Southeast Asia could
be eaten. When I investigated this matter, I was amazed to
discover that almost any insect is edible.
In a patch of mustard and wild turnips.
For example, no one would think that lice or fleas
could be of any use at all, but lice, ground up and eaten
with winter grain, are a remedy for epilepsy, and fleas are a
medicine for frostbite. All insect larvae are quite edible, but
they must be alive. Poring over the old texts, I found stories
having to do with "delicacies" prepared from maggots from
* Watercress, shepherd's purse, wild turnip, cottonweed, chickweed,
wild radish, and bee nettle. Illustrated on pg. 121.
the outhouse, and the flavor of the familiar silkworm was
said to be exquisite beyond compare. Even moths, if you
shake the powder off their wings first, are very tasty.
So, whether from the standpoint of flavor or from the
standpoint of health, many things which people consider
repulsive are actually quite tasty and also good for the
Vegetables that are biologically closest to their wild
ancestors are the best in flavor and the highest in food
value. For example, in the lily family (which includes nira,
garlic, Chinese leek, green onion, pearl onion, and bulb
onion) the nira and Chinese leek are highest in nutrition,
good as herbal medicine, and also useful as a tonic for
general well-being. To most people, however, the more
domestic varieties, such as green onion and bulb onion, are
regarded as the best tasting. For some reason, modern
people like the flavor of vegetables that have departed from
their wild state.
A similar taste preference applies to animal foods.
Wild birds when eaten, are much better for the body than
domestic fowl such as chickens and ducks, and yet these
birds, raised in an environment far removed from their
natural homes, are regarded as good tasting and sold at high
prices. Goat's milk has a higher food value than cow's milk,
but it is the cow's milk which is in greater demand.
Foods that have departed far from their wild state and
those raised chemically or in a completely contrived
environment unbalance the body chemistry. The more out
of balance one's body becomes, the more one comes to
desire unnatural foods. This situation is dangerous to
To say that what one eats is merely a matter of
preference is deceiving, because an unnatural or exotic diet
creates a hardship for the farmer and the fisherman as well.
It seems to me that the greater one's desires, the more one
has to work to satisfy them. Some fish, such as the popular
tuna and yellowtail must be caught in distant waters, but
sardine, sea bream, flounder, and other small fish can be
caught in great abundance in the Inland Sea. Speaking
nutritionally, creatures which live in freshwater rivers and
streams, such as carp, pond snails, stream crayfish, marsh
crabs and so on, are better for the body than those from salt
water. Next come shallow-water ocean fish, and finally fish
from deep salt water and from distant seas. The foods that
are nearby are best for human beings, and things that he has
to struggle to obtain turn out to be the least beneficial of all.
That is to say that if one accepts what is near at hand,
all goes well. If the farmers who live in this village eat only
the foods that can be grown or gathered here, there will be
no mistake. In the end, like the group of young people
living in the huts up in the orchard, one will find it simplest
to eat brown rice and unpolished barley, millet, and
buckwheat, together with the seasonal plants and semi-wild
vegetables. One ends up with the best food; it has flavor,
and is good for the body.
If 22 bushels (1,300 pounds) of rice and 22 bushels of
winter grain are harvested from a quarter acre field such as
one of these, then the field will support five to ten people
each investing an average of less than one hour of labor per
day. But if the field were turned over to pasturage, or if the
grain were fed to cattle, only one person could be supported
per quarter acre. Meat becomes a luxury food when its
production requires land which could provide food directly
for human consumption.* This has been shown clearly and
definitely. Each person should ponder seriously how much
hardship he is causing by indulging in food so expensively
Meat and other imported foods are luxuries because
they require more energy and resources than the traditional
vegetables and grains produced locally. It follows that
people who limit themselves to a simple local diet need do
less work and use less land than those with an appetite for
If people continue to eat meat and imported food,
within ten years it is certain that Japan will fall into a food
crisis. Within thirty years, there will be overwhelming
shortages. The absurd idea has swept in from somewhere
that a change from rice-eating to bread-eating indicates an
improvement in the everyday life of the Japanese people.
Actually this is not so. Brown rice and vegetables may
seem to be coarse fare, but this is the very finest diet
nutritionally, and enables human beings to live simply and
If we do have a food crisis it will not be caused by the
insufficiency of nature's productive power, but by the
extravagance of human desire.
*Although most meat in North America is produced by feeding field
crops such as wheat, barley, corn, and soybeans to animals, there are
also large areas of land best used when rotated regularly into pasture or
hay fields. In Japan, almost no such land exists. Almost all meat must
A Merciful Death for Barley
Forty years ago, as a result of increasing political
hostility between the United States and Japan, importing
wheat from America became impossible. There was a
general movement throughout the country to grow wheat
domestically. The American wheat varieties being used
require a long growing season and the grain finally matured
in the middle of Japan's rainy season. Even after the farmer
had taken such great pains to grow the crop, it would often
rot during the harvest. These varieties proved to be very
unreliable and highly susceptible to disease, so the farmers
did not want to grow wheat. When ground and toasted in
the traditional way, the taste was so terrible that you almost
choked and had to spit it out.
The traditional varieties of Japanese rye and barley
can be harvested in May, before the rainy season, so they
are comparatively safe crops. Farmers had wheat
cultivation forced upon them nonetheless. Everyone
laughed and said there was nothing worse than growing
wheat, but they patiently went along with the government
After the war, American wheat was again imported in
large quantities, causing the price of wheat grown in Japan
to fall. This added to the many other good reasons to
discontinue wheat growing. "Give up wheat, give up
wheat!" was the slogan propagated nationwide by the
government's agricultural leaders, and the farmers gladly
gave it up. At the same time, because of the low price of
imported wheat, the government encouraged the farmers to
stop growing the traditional winter crops of rye and barley.
This policy was carried out and the fields of Japan were left
to lie fallow through the winter.
About ten years ago I was chosen to represent Ehime
Prefecture in NHK television's "Outstanding Farmer of the
Year" competition. At that time I was asked by a member of
the screening committee, "Mr. Fukuoka, why don't you give
up growing rye and barley?" I answered, "Rye and barley are
easy crops to raise, and by growing them in succession with
rice we can produce the greatest number of calories from
Japan's fields. That's why I don't give them up."
It was made clear that no one who stubbornly goes
against the will of the Ministry of Agriculture could be
named Outstanding Farmer and I then said, "If that's what
keeps someone from getting the Outstanding Farmer Award,
then I'm better off without it." One of the members of the
screening panel later said to me, "If I were to leave the
university and take up farming myself, I would probably
farm as you do, and grow rice in summer, and barley and rye
over the winter every year as before the war."
Shortly after this episode, I appeared on an NHK
television program in a panel discussion with various
university professors, and at that time I was again asked,
"Why don't you give up growing rye and barley?" I stated
once again, very clearly, that I wasn't about to give them up
for any one of a dozen good reasons. About that time the
slogan for giving up winter grain cultivation called for "A
merciful death." That is, the practice of growing winter
grain and rice in succession should pass away quietly. But
"merciful death" is too gentle a term; the Ministry of
Agriculture really wanted it to die in the ditch. When it
became clear to me that the main purpose of the program
was to promote a rapid end to growing winter grain,
leaving it "dead by the side of the road" so to speak, I
exploded in indignation.
Forty years ago the call was to grow wheat, to grow
foreign grain, to grow a useless and impossible crop. Then
it was said that the Japanese varieties of rye and barley did
not have as high a food value as American grain and the
farmers regretfully gave up growing these traditional
grains. As the standard of living rose by leaps and bounds,
the word went out to eat meat, eat eggs, drink milk, and
change from eating rice to eating bread. Corn, soybeans,
and wheat were imported in ever-increasing quantities.
American wheat was cheap, so the growing of native rye and
barley was abandoned. Japanese agriculture adopted measures
which forced farmers to take part-time jobs in town so they
could buy the crops they had been told not to grow.
And now, new concern has arisen over the shortage of
food resources. Self-sufficiency in rye and barley
production is again being advocated. They are saying there
will even be subsidies. But it is not enough to grow
traditional winter grains for a couple of years and then to
abandon them again. A sound agricultural policy must be
established. Because the Ministry of Agriculture has no
clear idea of what should be grown in the first place, and
because it does not understand the connection between
what is grown in the fields and the people's diet, a
consistent agricultural policy remains an impossibility.
If the Ministry's staff were to go to the mountains and
meadows, gather the seven herbs of spring, and the seven
herbs of autumn,* and taste them, they would learn what
the source of human nourishment is. If they would
investigate further they would see that you can live quite
well on traditional domestic crops such as rice, barley, rye,
buckwheat, and vegetables, and they could decide simply
that this is all Japanese agriculture needs to grow. If that is
all the farmers have to grow, farming becomes very easy.
Until now the line of thought among modern
economists has been that small scale, self-sufficient
farming is wrong — that this is a primitive kind of
agriculture — one that should be eliminated as quickly as
possible. It is being said that the area of each field must be
expanded to handle the changeover to large-scale,
American-style agriculture. This way of thinking does not
apply only to agriculture — developments in all areas are
moving in this direction.
The goal is to have only a few people in farming. The
agricultural authorities say that fewer people, using large,
modern machinery can get greater yields from the same
acreage. This is considered agricultural progress. After the
War, between 70% and 80% of the people in Japan were
farmers. This quickly changed to 50%, then 30%, 20%, and
now the figure stands at around 14%. It is the intention of
the Ministry of Agriculture to achieve the same level as in
Europe and America, keeping less than 10% of the people
as farmers and discouraging the rest.
In my opinion, if 100% of the people were farming it
would be ideal. There is just a quarter-acre of arable land
for each person in Japan. If each single person were given
one quarter-acre, that is 1 % acres to a family of five, that
would be more than enough land to support the family for
the whole year. If natural farming were practiced, a farmer
would also have plenty of time for leisure and social
activities within the village community. I think this is the
most direct path toward making this country a happy,
* Chinese bell flower, arrowroot (kudzu), thoroughwort (a boneset),
valerianacea, bush clover, wild fringed pink, and Japanese pampas
Simply Serve Nature and All Is Well
Extravagance of desire is the fundamental cause
which has led the world into its present predicament.
Fast rather than slow, more rather than less — this
flashy "development" is linked directly to society's
impending collapse. It has only served to separate man
from nature. Humanity must stop indulging the desire for
material possessions and personal gain and move instead
toward spiritual awareness.
Agriculture must change from large mechanical
operations to small farms attached only to life itself.
Material life and diet should be given a simple place. If this
is done, work becomes pleasant, and spiritual breathing
space becomes plentiful.
The more the farmer increases the scale of his
operation, the more his body and spirit are dissipated and
the further he falls away from a spiritually satisfying life. A
life of small-scale farming may appear to be primitive, but
in living such a life, it becomes possible to contemplate the
Great Way* I believe that if one fathoms deeply one's own
neighborhood and the everyday world in which he lives,
the greatest of worlds will be revealed.
At the end of the year the one-acre farmer of long ago
spent January, February, and March hunting rabbits in the
hills. Though he was called a poor peasant, he still had this
kind of freedom. The New Year's holiday lasted about three
months. Gradually this vacation came to be shortened to
two months, one month, and now New Year's has come to
be a three-day holiday.
The dwindling of the New Year's holiday indicates
how busy the farmer has become and how he has lost his
easy-going physical and spiritual well-being. There is no
time in modern agriculture for a farmer to write a poem or
compose a song.
The other day I was surprised to notice, while I was
cleaning the little village shrine, that there were some
plaques hanging on the wall. Brushing off the dust and
looking at the dim and faded letters, I could make out
dozens of haiku poems. Even in a little village such as this,
twenty or thirty people had composed haiku and presented
them as offerings. That is how much open space people had
*The path of spiritual awareness which involves attentive-ness to and
care for the ordinary activities of daily life.
in their lives in the old days. Some of the verses must have
been several centuries old. Since it was that long ago they
were probably poor farmers, but they still had leisure to
Now there is no one in this village with enough time
to write poetry. During the cold winter months, only a few
villagers can find the time to sneak out for a day or two to
go after rabbits. For leisure, now, the television is the
center of attention, and there is no time at all for the simple
pastimes which brought richness to the farmer's daily life.
This is what I mean when I say that agriculture has become
poor and weak spiritually; it is concerning itself only with
Lao Tzu, the Taoist sage, says that a whole and decent
life can be lived in a small village. Bodhidharma, the
founder of Zen, spent nine years living in a cave without
bustling about. To be worried about making money,
expanding, developing, growing cash crops and shipping
them out is not the way of the farmer. To be here, caring
for a small field, in full possession of the freedom and
plentitude of each day, every day — this must have been the
original way of agriculture.
To break experience in half and call one side physical
and the other spiritual is narrowing and confusing. People
do not live dependent on food. Ultimately, we cannot know
what food is. It would be better if people stopped even
thinking about food. Similarly, it would be well if people
stopped troubling themselves about discovering the "true
meaning of life,-" we can never know the answers to great
spiritual questions, but it's all right not to understand. We
have been born and are living on the earth to face directly
the reality of living.
"There is no time in modern agriculture for a farmer to write a poem or
compose a song."
Living is no more than the result of being born.
Whatever it is people eat to live, whatever people think
they must eat to live, is nothing more than something they
have thought up. The world exists in such a way that if
people will set aside their human will and be guided instead
by nature there is no reason to expect to starve.
Just to live here and now — this is the true basis of
human life. When, a naive scientific knowledge becomes
the basis of living, people come to live as if they are
dependent only on starch, fats, and protein, and plants on
nitrogen, phosphorous, and potash.
And the scientists, no matter how much they
investigate nature, no matter how far they research, they
only come to realize in the end how perfect and mysterious
nature really is. To believe that by research and invention
humanity can create something better than nature is an
illusion. I think that people are struggling for no other
reason than to come to know what you might call the vast
incomprehensibility of nature.
So for the farmer in his work: serve nature and all is
well. Farming used to be sacred work. When humanity fell
away from this ideal, modern commercial agriculture rose.
When the farmer began to grow crops to make money, he
forgot the real principles of agriculture.
Of course the merchant has a role to play in society,
but glorification of merchant activities tends to draw people
away from a recognition of the true source of life. Farming,
as an occupation which is within nature, lies close to this
source. Many farmers are unaware of nature even while
living and working in natural surroundings, but it seems to
me that farming offers many opportunities for greater
"Whether autumn will bring wind or rain, I cannot
know, but today I will be working in the fields." Those are
the words of an old country song. They express the truth of
farming as a way of life. No matter how the harvest will
turn out, whether or not there will be enough food to eat, in
simply sowing seed and caring tenderly for plants under
nature's guidance there is joy.
Various Schools of Natural Farming
I do not particularly like the word "work." Human
beings are the only animals who have to work, and I think
this is the most ridiculous thing in the world. Other animals
make their livings by living, but people work like crazy,
thinking that they have to in order to stay alive. The bigger
the job, the greater the challenge, the more wonderful they
think it is. It would be good to give up that way of thinking
and live an easy, comfortable life with plenty of free time. I
think that the way animals live in the tropics, stepping
outside in the morning and evening to see if there is
something to eat, and taking a long nap in the afternoon,
must be a wonderful life.
For human beings, a life of such simplicity would be
possible if one worked to produce directly his daily
necessities. In such a life, work is not work as people
generally think of it, but simply doing what needs to be
To move things in this direction is my goal. It is also
the goal of the seven or eight young people who live
communally in the huts on the mountain and help out with
the farming chores. These young people want to become
farmers, to establish new villages and communities, and to
give this sort of life a try. They come to my farm to learn
the practical skills of farming that they will need to carry
out this plan.
If you look across the country you might notice that
quite a few communes have been springing up recently. If
they are called gatherings of hippies, well, they could be
viewed that way too, I suppose. But in living and working
together, finding the way back to nature, they are the model
of the "new farmer." They understand that to become
firmly rooted means to live from the yields of their own
land. A community that cannot manage to produce its own
food will not last long.
Many of these young people travel to India, or to
France's Gandhi Village, spend time on a kibbutz in Israel,
or visit communes in the mountains and deserts of the
American West. There are those like the group on
Suwanose Island in the Tokara Island chain of Southern
Japan, who try new forms of family living and experience
the closeness of tribal ways. I think that the movement of
this handful of people is leading the way to a better time. It
is among these people that natural farming is now rapidly
taking hold and gaining momentum.
In addition, various religious groups have come to
take up natural farming. In seeking the essential nature of
man, no matter how you go about it, you must begin with
the consideration of health. The path which leads to right
awareness involves living each day straightforwardly and
growing and eating wholesome, natural food. It follows
that natural farming has been for many people the best
place to begin.
I do not belong to any religious group myself and will
freely discuss my views with anyone at all. I do not care
much for making distinctions among Christianity,
Buddhism, Shinto, and the other religions, but it does
intrigue me that people of deep religious conviction are
attracted to my farm. I think this is because natural
farming, unlike other types of farming, is based on a
philosophy which penetrates beyond considerations of soil
analysis, pH, and harvest yields.
Some time ago, a fellow from the Paris Organic
Gardening Center climbed up the mountain, and we spent
the day talking. Hearing about affairs in France, I learned
that they were planning an organic farming conference on
an international scale, and as preparation for the meeting,
this Frenchman was visiting organic and natural farms all
over the world. I showed him around the orchard and then
we sat down over a cup of mugwort tea and discussed some
of my observations over the past thirty-odd years.
First I said that when you look over the principles of
the organic farming popular in the West, you will find that
they hardly differ from those of the traditional Oriental
agriculture practiced in China, Korea, and Japan for many
centuries. All Japanese farmers were still using this type of
farming through the Meiji and Taisho Eras* and right up
until the end of the Second World War.
It was a system which emphasized the fundamental
importance of compost and of recycling human and animal
waste. The form of management was intensive and
included such practices as crop rotation, companion
planting, and the use of green manure. Since space was
limited, fields were never left untended and the planting
and harvesting schedules proceeded with precision. All
organic residue was made into compost and returned to the
fields. The use of compost was officially encouraged and
agricultural research was mainly concerned with organic
matter and composting techniques.
So an agriculture joining animals, crops, and human
beings into one body existed as the mainstream of Japanese
farming up to modern times. It could be said that organic
farming as practiced in the West takes as its point of
departure this traditional agriculture of the Orient.
I went on to say that among natural farming methods
two kinds could be distinguished: broad, transcendent
natural farming, and the narrow natural farming of the
relative world.* If I were pressed to talk about it in
Buddhist terms, the two could be called respectively as
Mahayana and Hinayana natural farming.
Broad, Mahayana natural farming arises of itself when
a unity exists between man and nature. It conforms to
nature as it is, and to the mind as it is. It proceeds from the
conviction that if the individual temporarily abandons
human will and so allows himself to be guided by nature,
nature responds by providing everything. To give a simple
analogy, in transcendent natural farming the relationship
between humanity and nature can be compared with a
husband and wife joined in perfect marriage. The marriage
is not bestowed, not received; the perfect pair comes into
existence of itself.
Narrow natural farming, on the other hand, is
pursuing the way of nature; it self-consciously attempts, by
"organic" or other methods, to follow nature. Farming is
used for achieving a given objective. Although sincerely
loving nature and earnestly proposing to her, the
relationship is still tentative. Modern industrial farming
desires heaven's wisdom, without grasping its meaning, and
at the same time wants to make use of nature. Restlessly
searching, it is unable to find anyone to propose to.
The narrow view of natural farming says that it is
good for the farmer to apply organic material to the soil and
good to raise animals, and that this is the best and most
efficient way to put nature to use. To speak in terms of
personal practice, this is fine, but with this way alone, the
spirit of true natural farming cannot be kept alive. This kind
of narrow natural farming is analogous to the school of
swordsmanship known as the one-stroke school, which
seeks victory through the skillful, yet self-conscious
application of technique. Modern industrial farming
follows the two-stroke school, which believes that victory
can be won by delivering the greatest barrage of
*This is the world as understood by the intellect.
Pure natural farming, by contrast, is the no-stroke
school. It goes nowhere and seeks no victory. Putting
"doing nothing" into practice is the one thing the farmer
should strive to accomplish. Lao Tzu spoke of non-active
nature, and I think that if he were a farmer he would
certainly practice natural farming. I believe that Gandhi's
way, a methodless method, acting with a non-winning, non-
opposing state of mind, is akin to natural farming. When it
is understood that one loses joy and happiness in the
attempt to possess them, the essence of natural farming will
be realized. The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing
of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human
*In this paragraph Mr. Fukuoka is drawing a distinction between
techniques undertaken in conscious pursuit of a given objective, and
those which arise spontaneously as the expression of a person's
harmony with nature as he goes about his daily business, free from the
domination of the volitional intellect.
Confusion about Food
A young fellow who had stayed three years in one of
the huts on the mountain said one day, "You know, when
people say 'natural food' I don't know what they mean any
When you think about it, everybody is familiar with
the words "natural food," but it is not clearly understood
what natural food actually is. There are many who feel that
eating food which contains no artificial chemicals or
additives is a natural diet, and there are others who think
vaguely that a natural diet is eating foods just as they are
found in nature.
If you ask whether the use of fire and salt in cooking
is natural or unnatural, one could answer either way. If the
diet of the people of primitive times, eating only plants and
animals living in their wild state, is "natural," then a diet
which uses salt and fire cannot be called natural. But if it is
argued that the knowledge acquired in ancient times of
using fire and salt was humanity's natural destiny, then
food prepared accordingly is perfectly natural. Is food to
which human techniques of preparation have been applied
good, or should wild foods just as they are in nature be
considered good? Can cultivated crops be said to be
natural? Where do you draw the line between natural and
It could be said that the term "natural diet" in Japan
originated with the teachings of Sagen Ishizuka in the Meiji
Era. His theory was later refined and elaborated by Mr.
Sakurazawa* and Mr. Niki. The Path of Nutrition, known
in the West as Macrobiotics, is based on the theory of non-
duality and the yin-yang concepts of the I Ching. Since this
usually means a brown rice diet, "natural diet" is generally
thought of as eating whole grains and vegetables. Natural
food, however, cannot be summed up so simply as brown
So what is it?
* George Osawa.
The reason for all the confusion is that there are two
paths of human knowledge — discriminating and non-
discriminating.** People generally believe that unmistaken
recognition of the world is possible through discrimination
alone. Therefore, the word "nature" as it is generally
spoken, denotes nature as it is perceived by the
I deny the empty image of nature as created by the
human intellect, and clearly distinguish it from nature itself
as experienced by non-discriminating understanding. If we
eradicate the false conception of nature, I believe the root
of the world's disorder will disappear.
In the West natural science developed from
discriminating knowledge; in the East the philosophy of
yin-yang and of the I Ching developed from the same
source. But scientific truth can never reach absolute truth,
and philosophies, after all, are nothing more than
interpretations of the world. Nature as grasped by scientific
knowledge is a nature which has been destroyed; it is a
ghost possessing a skeleton, but no soul. Nature as grasped
by philosophical knowledge is a theory created out of
human speculation, a ghost with a soul, but no structure.
There is no way in which non-discriminating
knowledge can be realized except by direct intuition, but
people try to fit it into a familiar framework by calling it
"instinct". It is actually knowledge from an unnamable
source. Abandon the discriminating mind and transcend the
world of relativity if you want to know the true appearance
of nature. From the beginning there is no east or west, no
four seasons, and no yin or yang.
**This is a distinction made by many Oriental philosophers.
Discriminating knowledge is derived from the analytic, willful intellect
in an attempt to organize experience into a logical framework. Mr.
Fukuoka believes that in this process, the individual sets himself apart
from nature. It is the "limited scientific truth and judgment" discussed
on pg. 84.
Non-discriminating knowledge arises without conscious effort on the
part of the individual when experience is accepted as it is, without
interpretation by the intellect.
While discriminating knowledge is essential for analyzing practical
problems in the world, Mr. Fukuoka believes that ultimately it provides
too narrow a perspective.
A mid-day meal of soup and rice with pickled vegetables.
When I had gone this far, the youth asked, "Then you
not only deny natural science, but also the Oriental
philosophies based on yin-yang and the I Ching?"
As temporary expedients or as directional markers
they could be acknowledged as valuable, I said but they
should not be considered as the highest achievements.
Scientific truths and philosophies are concepts of the
relative world, and there they hold true and their value is
recognized. For example, for modern people living in the
relative world, disrupting the order of nature and bringing
about the collapse of their own body and spirit, the yin-
yang system can serve as a fitting and effective pointer
toward the restoration of order.
Such paths could be said to be useful theories to help
people achieve a condensed and compact diet until a true
natural diet is attained. But if you realize that the eventual
human goal is to transcend the world of relativity, to play
in a realm of freedom, then plodding along attached to
theory is unfortunate. When the individual is able to enter a
world in which the two aspects of yin and yang return to
their original unity, the mission of these symbols comes to
A youth who had recently arrived spoke up: "Then if
you become a natural person you can eat anything you
If you expect a bright world on the other side of the
tunnel, the darkness of the tunnel lasts all the longer. When
you no longer want to eat something tasty, you can taste the
real flavor of whatever you are eating. It is easy to lay out
the simple foods of a natural diet on the dining table, but
those who can truly enjoy such a feast are few.
Nature's Food Mandala
My thinking on natural food is the same as it is on
natural farming. Just as natural farming complies with
nature as it is, that is, nature as apprehended by the non-
discriminating mind, so natural diet is a way of eating in
which foods gathered in the wild or crops grown through
natural farming, and fish caught by natural methods, are
acquired without intentional action through the non-
Even though I speak of non-intentional action and
non-method, wisdom acquired over time in the course of
daily life is, of course, acknowledged. The use of salt and
fire in cooking could be criticized as the first step in the
separation of man from nature, but it is simply natural
wisdom as apprehended by primitive people, and should be
sanctioned as wisdom bestowed by heaven.
Crops which have evolved over thousands and tens of
thousands of years by dwelling together with human beings
are not products born entirely from the discriminating
knowledge of the farmer, and can be thought of as naturally
occurring foods. But the instantly altered varieties which
have not evolved under natural circumstances, but rather
have been developed by an agricultural science which has
drawn far away from nature, as well as mass-produced fish,
shellfish, and domestic animals, fall outside that category.
Farming, fishing, animal raising, the everyday
realities of food, clothing, shelter, spiritual life — everything
there is — must form a union with nature.
I have drawn the following diagrams to help explain
the natural diet which transcends science and philosophy.
The first brings together the foods which people can most
easily obtain, and these are arranged more or less in groups.
The second shows the foods as they are available during
the various months of the year. These diagrams compose
nature's food mandala.* From this mandala it can be seen
that the sources of food provided on the face of the earth
are nearly limitless. If people will acquire food through
"no-mind",** even though they know nothing at all about
yin and yang, they can attain a perfect natural diet.
* A circular diagram in eastern art and religion, symbolizing the totality
and wholeness of its subject.
** A Buddhist term which describes the state in which there is no
distinction between the individual and the "external" world.
The fishermen and farmers in a Japanese village have
no particular interest in the logic of these diagrams. They
follow nature's prescription by selecting seasonal foods
from their immediate area.
From early spring, when the seven herbs sprout forth
from the earth, the farmer can taste seven flavors. To go
along with these are the delicious flavors of pond snails,
sea clams, and turban shellfish.
The season of green arrives in March. Horsetail,
bracken, mugwort, osmund, and other mountain plants, and
of course the young leaves of the persimmon and peach
trees and the sprouts of mountain yams can all be eaten.
Possessing a light, delicate flavor, they make delicious
tempura and can also be used as seasonings. At the
seashore, sea vegetables such as kelp, nori, and rockweed
are delicious and abundant during the spring months.
NATURE'S FOOD MANDALA DIAGRAM ONE
When the bamboo sends up its young shoots, grey
rock cod, sea bream, and striped pig fish are at their most
delicious. The iris blossom season is celebrated with the
slender ribbon fish and mackerel sashimi. Green peas,
snow peas, lima beans, and fava beans are delicious eaten
right from the pod or boiled with whole grains such as
brown rice, wheat, or barley.
Toward the end of the rainy season,* Japanese plums
are salted away, and strawberries and raspberries can be
gathered in abundance. At this time it is natural that the
body begins to desire the crisp flavor of scallions together
with watery fruits such as loquats, apricots, and peaches.
The loquat's fruit is not the only part of the plant which can
be eaten. The seed can be ground into "coffee," and when
the leaves are brewed to make tea it is among the finest of
medicines. The mature leaves of peach and persimmon
trees produce a tonic for longevity.
Beneath the bright midsummer sun, eating melons and
licking honey in the shade of a big tree is a favorite
pastime. The many summer vegetables such as carrot,
spinach, radish, and cucumber become ripe and ready for
harvesting. The body also needs vegetable or sesame oil to
hold off summer sloth.
If you call it mysterious, then mysterious it is that the
winter grain harvested in spring goes well with the
decreased summertime appetite, and so in summer barley
noodles of various sizes and shapes are prepared often.
Buckwheat grain is harvested in summer. It is an ancient
wild plant and a food which goes well with this season.
Early fall is a happy season, with soybeans and small
red azuki beans, many fruits, vegetables, and various
yellow grains all ripening at the same time.
Millet cakes are enjoyed at the autumn moon viewing
celebrations. Parboiled soybeans are served along with taro
potatoes. As autumn deepens, maize, and rice steamed with
red beans, matsutake mushrooms, or chestnuts are eaten
and enjoyed often. Most important, the rice which has
absorbed the sun's rays all summer long ripens in the fall.
This means that a staple food which can be plentifully
obtained and is rich in calories is provided for the cold
At first frost one feels like looking in on the fish-
broiler's stand. Deep-water blue fish such as yellowtail and
tuna can be caught during this season. It is interesting that
the Japanese radish and the leafy vegetables abundant
during this season go well with these fish.
The New Year's holiday cooking is prepared largely
from food which has been pickled and salted away
especially for the great celebration. Salted salmon, herring
eggs, red sea bream, lobster, kelp, and black beans have
been served every year at this feast for many centuries.
*In most of Japan the rainy season lasts from June to mid-July.
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NATURES FOOD MANDALA DIAGRAM TWO
Digging the radishes and turnips which have been left
in the ground, covered with a blanket of soil and snow, is
an enjoyable experience during the winter season. Grains
and various beans grown during the year and miso and soy
sauce are staples always on hand. Along with the cabbages,
radishes, squash, and sweet potatoes stored in the autumn, a
variety of foods are available during the months of bitter
cold. Leeks and wild scallions go well with the delicate
flavor of oysters and sea cucumbers which can be gathered
Waiting for spring to arrive, one catches sight of colt's
foot shoots and the edible leaves of the creeping strawberry
geranium peeping out of the snow. With the return of
watercress, shepherd's purse, chickweed, and the other
wild herbs, a garden of natural spring vegetables can be
harvested beneath the kitchen window.
Thus, by following a humble diet, gathering the foods
of the various seasons from close at hand, and savoring
their wholesome and nourishing flavor, the local villagers
accept what nature provides.
The villagers know the delicious flavor of the food,
but they cannot taste the mysterious flavor of nature. No, it
is rather that they taste it, but cannot express it with words.
A natural diet lies right at one's feet.
The Culture of Food
When asked why we eat food, few think further than
the fact that food is necessary to support the life and growth
of the human body. Beyond this, however, there is the
deeper question of the relationship of food to the human
spirit. For animals it is enough to eat, play, and sleep. For
humans, too, it would be a great accomplishment if they
could enjoy nourishing food, a simple daily round, and
Buddha said, "Form is emptiness and emptiness is
form." Since the "form" of Buddhist terminology indicates
matter, or things, and emptiness is the mind, he is saying
that matter and mind are the same. Things have many
different colors, shapes, and flavors, and people's minds flit
from side to side, attracted to the various qualities of
things. But actually, matter and mind are one.
In the world there are seven basic colors. But if these
seven colors are combined, they become white. When split
by a prism the white light becomes seven colors. When
man views the world with "no-mind" the color in the color
vanishes. It is no-color. Only when they are viewed by the
seven-colored mind of discrimination do the seven colors
Water undergoes countless changes but water is still
water. In the same way, although the conscious mind
appears to undergo changes, the original unmoving mind
does not change. When one becomes infatuated with the
seven colors, the mind is easily distracted. The colors of
leaves, branches, and fruit are perceived, while the basis of
color passes unnoticed.
This is also true of food. In this world there are many
natural substances that are suitable for human food. These
foods are distinguished by the mind and are thought to have
good and bad qualities. People then consciously select what
they think they must have. This process of selection
impedes the recognition of the basis of human nourishment,
which is what heaven prescribes for the place and season.
Nature's colors, like hydrangea blossoms, change
easily. The body of nature is perpetual transformation. For
the same reason that it is called infinite motion, it may also
be considered non-moving motion. When reason is applied
to selecting foods, one's understanding of nature becomes
fixed and nature's transformations, such as the seasonal
changes, are ignored.
The purpose of a natural diet is not to create
knowledgeable people who can give sound explanations
and skillfully select among the various foods, but to create
unknowing people who take food without consciously
making distinctions. This does not go against the way of
nature. By realizing "no-mind," without becoming lost in
the subtleties of form, accepting the color of the colorless
as color, right diet begins.
People say, "You don't know what food tastes like
until you try it." But even when you do try it, the food's
flavor may vary, depending on time and circumstance and
the dispositon of the person who is tasting.
If you ask a scientist what the substance of flavor is,
he will try to define it by isolating the various components
and by determining the proportions of sweet, sour, bitter,
salty, and pungent. But flavor cannot be defined by analysis
or even by the tip of the tongue. Even though the five
flavors are perceived by the tongue, the impressions are
collected and interpreted by the mind.
A natural person can achieve right diet because his
instinct is in proper working order. He is satisfied with
simple food; it is nutritious, tastes good, and is useful daily
medicine. Food and the human spirit are united.
Modern people have lost their clear instinct and
consequently have become unable to gather and enjoy the
seven herbs of spring. They go out seeking a variety of
flavors. Their diet becomes disordered, the gap between
likes and dislikes widens, and their instinct becomes more
and more bewildered. At this point people begin to apply
strong seasonings to their food and to use elaborate cooking
techniques, further deepening the confusion. Food and the
human spirit have become estranged.
Most people today have even become separated from
the flavor of rice. The whole grain is refined and processed,
leaving only the tasteless starch. Polished rice lacks the
unique fragrance and flavor of whole rice. Consequently, it
requires seasonings and must be supplemented with side
dishes or covered with sauce. People think, mistakenly, that
it does not matter that the food value of the rice is low, as
long as vitamin supplements or other foods such as meat or
fish supply the missing nutrients.
Flavorful foods are not flavorful in themselves. Food
is not delicious unless a person thinks it is. Although most
people think that beef and chicken are delectable, to a
person who for physical or spiritual reasons has decided
that he dislikes them, they are repulsive.
Just playing or doing nothing at all, children are
happy. A discriminating adult, on the other hand, decides
what will make him happy, and when these conditions are
met he feels satisfied. Foods taste good to him not
necessarily because they have nature's subtle flavors and
are nourishing to the body, but because his taste has been
conditioned to the idea that they taste good.
Wheat noodles are delicious, but a cup of instant
noodles from a vending machine tastes extremely bad. But,
by advertising, remove the idea that they taste bad, and to
many people even these unsavory noodles somehow come
to taste good.
There are stories that, deceived by a fox, people have
eaten horse manure. It is nothing to laugh about. People
nowadays eat with their minds, not with their bodies. Many
people do not care if there is monosodium glutamate in
their food, but they taste only with the tip of the tongue, so
they are easily fooled.
At first people ate simply because they were alive and
because food was tasty. Modern people have come to think
that if they do not prepare food with elaborate seasonings,
the meal will be tasteless. If you do not try to make food
delicious, you will find that nature has made it so.
The first consideration should be to live in such a way
that the food itself tastes good, but today all the effort goes
instead into adding tastiness to food. Ironically, delicious
foods have all but vanished.
People tried to make delicious bread, and delicious
bread disappeared. In trying to make rich luxurious foods
they made useless foods, and now people's appetites are
The best methods of food preparation preserve
nature's delicate flavors. The daily wisdom of long ago
enabled people to make the various kinds of vegetable
pickles, such as sun-dried pickles, salt-pickles, bran-
pickles, and miso -pickles, so that the flavor of the
vegetable itself was also preserved.
The art of cooking begins with sea salt and a crackling
fire. When food is prepared by someone sensitive to the
fundamentals of cookery, it maintains its natural flavor. If,
by being cooked, food takes on some strange and exotic
flavor, and if the purpose of this change is merely to delight
the palate, this is false cooking.
Culture is usually thought of as something created,
maintained, and developed by humanity's efforts alone. But
culture always originates in the partnership of man and
nature. When the union of human society and nature is
realized, culture takes shape of itself. Culture has always
been closely connected with daily life, and so has been
passed on to future generations, and has been preserved up
to the present time.
Something born from human pride and the quest for
pleasure cannot be considered true culture. True culture is
born within nature, and is simple, humble, and pure.
Lacking true culture, humanity will perish.
When people rejected natural food and took up
refined food instead, society set out on a path toward its
own destruction. This is because such food is not the
product of true culture. Food is life, and life must not step
away from nature.
Living by Bread Alone
There is nothing better than eating delicious food, but
for most people eating is just a way to nourish the body, to
have energy to work and to live to an old age. Mothers
often tell their children to eat their food — even if they do
not like the taste — because it is "good " for them.
But nutrition cannot be separated from the sense of
taste. Nutritious foods, good for the human body, whet the
appetite and are delicious on their own account. Proper
nourishment is inseparable from good flavor.
Not too long ago the daily meal of the farmers in this
area consisted of rice and barley with miso and pickled
vegetables. This diet gave long life, a strong constitution,
and good health. Stewed vegetables and steamed rice with
red beans was a once-a-month feast. The farmer's healthy,
robust body was able to nourish itself well on this simple
The traditional brown rice-and-vegetable diet of the
East is very different from that of most Western societies.
Western nutritional science believes that unless certain
amounts of starch, fat, protein, minerals, and vitamins are
eaten each day, a well-balanced diet and good health
cannot be preserved. This belief produced the mother who
stuffs "nutritious" food into her youngster's mouth.
One might suppose that Western dietetics, with its
elaborate theories and calculations, could leave no doubts
about proper diet. The fact is, it creates far more problems
than it resolves.
One problem is that in Western nutritional science
there is no effort to adjust the diet to the natural cycle. The
diet that results serves to isolate human beings from nature.
A fear of nature and a general sense of insecurity are often
the unfortunate results.
Another problem is that spiritual and emotional values
are entirely forgotten, even though foods are directly
connected with human spirit and emotions. If the human
being is viewed merely as a physiological object, it is
impossible to produce a coherent understanding of diet.
When bits and pieces of information are collected and
brought together in confusion, the result is an imperfect
diet which draws away from nature.
"Within one thing lie all things, but if all things are
brought together not one thing can arise." Western science
is unable to grasp this precept of eastern philosophy. A
person can analyze and investigate a butterfly as far as he
likes, but he cannot make a butterfly.
If the Western scientific diet were put into practice on
a wide scale, what sort of practical problems do you
suppose would occur? High quality beef, eggs, milk,
vegetables, bread, and other foods would have to be readily
available all year around. Large scale production and long-
term storage would become necessary. Already in Japan,
adoption of this diet has caused farmers to produce summer
vegetables such as lettuce, cucumbers, eggplants, and
tomatoes in the winter. It will not be long before farmers
are asked to harvest persimmons in spring and peaches in
It is unreasonable to expect that a wholesome,
balanced diet can be achieved simply by supplying a great
variety of foods regardless of the season. Compared with
plants which ripen naturally, vegetables and fruits grown
out-of-season under necessarily unnatural conditions
contain few vitamins and minerals. It is not surprising that
summer vegetables grown in the autumn or winter have
none of the flavor and fragrance of those grown beneath the
sun by organic and natural methods.
Chemical analysis, nutritional ratios, and other such
considerations are the main causes of error. The food
prescribed by modern science is far from the traditional
Oriental diet, and it is undermining the health of the
Summing Up Diet
In this world there exist four main classifications of
(1) A lax diet conforming to habitual desires and taste
preferences. People following this diet sway back and forth
erratically in response to whims and fancies. This diet
could be called self-indulgent, empty eating.
(2) The standard nutritional diet of most people,
proceeding from biological conclusions. Nutritious foods
are eaten for the purpose of maintaining the life of the
body. It could be called materialist, scientific eating.
(3) The diet based on spiritual principles and
idealistic philosophy. Limiting foods, aiming toward
compression, most "natural" diets fall into this category.
This could be called the diet of principle.
(4) The natural diet, following the will of heaven.
Discarding all human knowledge, this diet could be called
the diet of non-discrimination.
People first draw away from the empty diet which is
the source of countless diseases. Next, becoming
disenchanted with the scientific diet, which merely
attempts to maintain biological life, many proceed to a diet
of principle. Finally, transcending this, one arrives at the
non-discriminating diet of the natural person.
The Diet of Non-Discrimination
Human life is not sustained by its own power. Nature
gives birth to human beings and keeps them alive. This is
the relation in which people stand to nature. Food is a gift
of heaven. People do not create foods from nature; heaven
Food is food and food is not food. It is a part of man
and is apart from man.
When food, the body, the heart, and the mind become
perfectly united within nature, a natural diet becomes
possible. The body as it is, following its own instinct,
eating if something tastes good, abstaining if it does not, is
It is impossible to prescribe rules and proportions for
a natural diet.* This diet defines itself according to the
local environment, and the various needs and the bodily
constitution of each person.
*A definite code or system by which one can consciously decide these
questions is impossible. Nature, or the body itself, serves as a capable
guide. But this subtle guidance goes unheard by most people because of
the clamor caused by desire and by the activity of the discriminating
The Diet of Principle
Everyone should be aware that nature is always
complete, balanced in perfect harmony within itself.
Natural food is whole and within the whole are
nourishment and subtle flavors.
It appears that, by applying the system of yin and
yang, people can explain the origin of the universe and the
transformations of nature. It may also seem that the
harmony of the human body can be determined and
consciously sustained. But if the doctrines are entered into
too deeply (as is necessary in the study of Eastern
medicine) one enters the domain of science and fails to
make the essential escape from discriminating perception.
Swept along by the subtleties of human knowledge
without recognizing its limits, the practitioner of the diet of
principle comes to concern himself only with separate
objects. But when trying to grasp the meaning of nature
with a wide and far-reaching vision, he fails to notice the
small things happening at his feet.
The Typical Sick Person's Diet
Sickness comes when people draw apart from nature.
The severity of the disease is directly proportional to the
degree of separation. If a sick person returns to a healthy
environment often the disease will disappear. When
alienation from nature becomes extreme, the number of
sick people increases. Then the desire to return to nature
becomes stronger. But in seeking to return to nature, there
is no clear understanding of what nature is, and so the
attempt proves futile.
Even if one lives a primitive life back in the
mountains, he may still fail to grasp the true objective. If
you try to do something, your efforts will never achieve the
People living in the cities face tremendous difficulty
in trying to attain a natural diet. Natural food is simply not
available, because farmers have stopped growing it. Even if
they could buy natural food, people's bodies would need to
be fit to digest such hearty fare.
In this sort of situation, if you try to eat wholesome
meals or attain a balanced yin-yang diet, you need
practically supernatural means and powers of judgment.
Far from a return to nature, a complicated, strange sort of
"natural" diet arises and the individual is only drawn
further away from nature.
If you look inside "health food" stores these days you
will find a bewildering assortment of fresh foods, packaged
foods, vitamins, and dietary supplements. In the literature
many different types of diets are presented as being
"natural," nutritious, and the best for health. If someone
says it is healthful to boil foods together, there is someone
else who says foods boiled together are only good for
making people sick. Some emphasize the essential value of
salt in the diet, others say that too much salt causes disease.
If there is someone who shuns fruit as yin and food for
monkeys, there is someone else who says fruit and
vegetables are the very best foods for providing longevity
and a happy disposition.
At various times and in various circumstances all of
these opinions could be said to be correct, and so people
come to be confused. Or rather, to a confused person, all of
these theories become material for creating greater
Nature is in constant transition, changing from
moment to moment. People cannot grasp nature's true
appearance. The face of nature is unknowable. Trying to
capture the unknowable in theories and formalized
doctrines is like trying to catch the wind in a butterfly net.
If you hit the mark on the wrong target, you have
Humanity is like a blind man who does not know
where he is heading. He gropes around with the cane of
scientific knowledge, depending on yin and yang to set his
What I want to say is, don't eat food with your head,
and that is to say get rid of the discriminating mind. I hoped
that the food mandala I drew earlier would serve as a guide
to show at a glance the relationship of various foods to each
other and to human beings. But you can throw that away
too after you have seen it once.
The prime consideration is for a person to develop the
sensitivity to allow the body to choose food by itself.
Thinking only about the foods themselves and leaving the
spirit aside, is like making visits to the temple, reading the
sutras, and leaving Buddha on the outside. Rather than
studying philosophical theory to reach an understanding of
food, it is better to arrive at a theory from within one's daily
Doctors take care of sick people; healthy people are
cared for by nature. Instead of getting sick and then
becoming absorbed in a natural diet to get well, one should
live in a natural environment so that sickness does not
The young people who come to stay in the huts on the
mountain and live a primitive life, eating natural foods and
practicing natural farming, are aware of man's ultimate
purpose, and they have set out to live in accordance with it
in the most direct way.
Food and Farming
This book on natural farming necessarily includes a
consideration of natural food. This is because food and
farming are the front and back of one body. It is clearer
than firelight that if natural farming is not practiced natural
food will not be available to the public. But if natural diet is
not established the farmer will remain confused about what
Unless people become natural people, there can be
neither natural farming nor natural food. In one of the huts
on the mountain I left the words, "Right Food, Right
Action, Right Awareness"* inscribed on a pinewood plaque
above the fireplace. The three cannot be separated from one
another. If one is missing, none can be realized. If one is
realized, all are realized.
People complacently view the world as a place where
"progress" grows out of turmoil and confusion. But
purposeless and destructive development invites confusion
of thought, invites nothing less than the degeneration and
collapse of humankind. If it is not clearly understood what
the non-moving source of all this activity is — what nature
is — it will be impossible to recover our health.
*This motto is phrased after the Buddhist Eightfold Path of spiritual
Foolishness Comes Out Looking Smart
The autumn nights are long and chilly. The time
would be well spent gazing into glowing coals, hands
pressed around a warm cup of tea. It is said that anything is
fine to talk about while sitting around the fire, and so,
thinking that the grudges of my fellow farmers would be an
interesting topic, I have casually brought up the subject.
But it seems there are going to be some problems.
Here I have been, talking all the time about how
everything is of no account, saying that humanity is
ignorant, that there is nothing to strive for, and that
whatever is done is wasted effort. How can I say that and
then go on chattering like this? If I push myself to write
something, the only thing to write is that writing is useless.
It is very perplexing.
I do not care to dwell on my own past long enough to
write about it, and I am not wise enough to predict the
future. Stirring the fire while making hearthside
conversation on daily affairs, how can I ask anybody to put
up with an old farmer's foolish notions?
On the ridgetop of the orchard, overlooking
Matsuyama Bay and the broad Dogo Plain, are several
small, mudwalled huts. There, a handful of people have
gathered and are living a simple life together. There are no
modern conveniences. Spending peaceful evenings beneath
candle and lamplight, they live a life of simple necessities:
brown rice, vegetables, a robe and a bowl. They come from
somewhere, stay for a while, and then move on.
Among the guests are agricultural researchers,
students, scholars, farmers, hippies, poets and wanderers,
young and old, men and women of various types and
nationalities. Most of those who stay for a long time are
young people in need of a period of introspection.
My function is to act as caretaker of this wayside inn,
serving tea to the travellers who come and go. And while
they are helping out in the fields, I enjoy listening to how
things are going in the world.
This sounds fine, but actually it is not such a soft and
easy life. I advocate "do-nothing" farming, and so many
people come, thinking they will find a Utopia where one
can live without ever having to get out of bed. These
people are in for a big surprise. Hauling water from the
spring in the early morning fog, splitting firewood until
their hands are red and stinging with blisters, working
ankle-deep in mud — there are many who quickly call it
The orchard and huts from the mountain above.
Today, as I watched a group of young people work on
a tiny hut, a young woman from Funabashi came walking
When I asked why she had come, she said, "I just
came, that's all. I don't know anything anymore."
Bright young lady, nonchalant, has her wits about her.
I then asked, "If you know you are unenlightened,
there is nothing to say, right? In coming to understand the
world through the power of discrimination, people lose
sight of its meaning. Isn't that why the world is in such a
She answered softly, "Yes, if you say so."
"Maybe you don't have a really clear idea of what
enlightenment is. What kind of books did you read before
She shook her head in rejection of reading.
People study because they think they do not
understand, but studying is not going to help one to
understand. They study hard only to find out in the end that
people cannot know anything, that understanding lies
beyond human reach.
Usually people think that the word "non-
understanding" applies when you say, for example, that you
understand nine things, but there is one thing you do not
understand. But intending to understand ten things, you
actually do not understand even one. If you know a
hundred flowers you do not "know" a single one. People
struggle hard to understand, convince themselves that they
understand, and die knowing nothing.
The young people took a break from their carpentry,
sat down on the grass near a big mandarin orange tree, and
looked up at the wispy clouds in the southern sky.
People think that when they turn their eyes from the
earth to the sky they see the heavens. They set the orange
fruit apart from the green leaves and say they know the
green of the leaves and the orange of the fruit. But from the
instant one makes a distinction between green and orange,
the true colors vanish.
People think they understand things because they
become familiar with them. This is only superficial
knowledge. It is the knowledge of the astronomer who
knows the names of the stars, the botanist who knows the
classification of the leaves and flowers, the artist who
knows the aesthetics of green and red. This is not to know
nature itself — the earth and sky, green and red.
Astronomer, botanist, and artist have done no more than
grasp impressions and interpret them, each within the vault
of his own mind. The more involved they become with the
activity of the intellect, the more they set themselves apart
and the more difficult it becomes to live naturally.
The tragedy is that in their unfounded arrogance,
people attempt to bend nature to their will. Human beings
can destroy natural forms, but they cannot create them.
Discrimination, a fragmented and incomplete
understanding, always forms the starting point of human
knowledge. Unable to know the whole of nature, people
can do no better than to construct an incomplete model of it
and then delude themselves into thinking that they have
created something natural.
All someone has to do to know nature is to realize that
he does not really know anything, that he is unable to know
anything. It can then be expected that he will lose interest
in discriminating knowledge. When he abandons
discriminating knowledge, non-discriminating knowledge
of itself arises within him. If he does not try to think about
knowing, if he does not care about understanding, the time
will come when he will understand. There is no other way
than through the destruction of the ego, casting aside the
thought that humans exist apart from heaven and earth.
"This means being foolish instead of being smart," I
snapped at a young fellow who had a wise look of
complacency on his face. "What kind of look is that in your
eyes? Foolishness comes out looking smart. Do you know
for sure whether you're smart or foolish, or are you trying
to become a foolish-type smart guy? You can't become
smart, can't become foolish, stuck at a standstill. Isn't that
where you are now?"
Before I knew it I was angry with myself for repeating
the same words over and over again, words which could
never match the wisdom of remaining silent, words I
myself could not understand.
The autumn sun was sinking low on the horizon.
Twilight colors approached the foot of the old tree. With
the light from the Inland Sea at their backs, the silent
youths returned slowly to the huts for their evening meal. I
followed quietly behind in the shadows.
Who Is the Fool?
It is said that there is no creature as wise as the human
being. By applying this wisdom, people have become the
only animals capable of nuclear war.
The other day the head of the natural foods store in
front of Osaka Station climbed up the mountain, bringing
along seven companions, like the seven gods of good
fortune. At noon, while we were feasting on an impromptu
brown rice hodgepodge, one of them told the following:
"Among children there is always one without a care in the
world who laughs happily as he pees, there is another who
always ends up the 'horse' when playing 'horse and rider,'
and always a third who is clever at tricking the others out
of their afternoon snack. Before the head of the class is
chosen, the teacher talks seriously about the desirable
qualities of a good leader and the importance of making a
wise decision. When the election is held, it is the youngster
who laughs happily by the side of the road who is chosen."
Everyone was amused, but I could not understand
why they were laughing. I thought it was only natural.
If things are seen in terms of gain and loss, one must
regard as the loser the child who always ends up playing
the role of the horse, but greatness and mediocrity do not
apply to children. The teacher thought the clever child was
the most remarkable, but the other children saw him as
being clever in the wrong way, someone who would
To think that the one who is smart and can look out
for himself is exceptional, and that it is better to be
exceptional, is to follow "adult" values. The one who goes
about his own business, eats and sleeps well, the one with
nothing to worry about, would seem to me to be living in
the most satisfactory manner. There is no one so great as
the one who does not try to accomplish anything.
In Aesop's fable, when the frogs asked god for a king,
he presented them with a log. The frogs made fun of the
dumb log and when they asked the god for a greater king,
he sent down a crane. As the story goes, the crane pecked
all the frogs to death.
If the one who stands out in front is great, the ones
who follow behind have to struggle and strain. If you set a
regular fellow up in front, those who come after have an
easy time. People think that someone who is strong and
clever is outstanding, and so they select a prime minister
who pulls the country like a diesel locomotive.
"What kind of person should be chosen for prime
"A dumb log," I replied. "There's nobody better than
daruma-san, * " I replied. "He is such a relaxed fellow he
can sit for years in meditation without saying a word. If
you give him a shove he rolls over, but with the persistence
of non-resistance he always sits back up. Damma-san
doesn't just sit idly by, keeping his hands and feet folded.
Knowing that you should keep them folded, he scowls
silently at the people who want to stick theirs out."
"If you did nothing at all the world could not keep
running. What would the world be without development?"
"Why do you have to develop? If economic growth
rises from 5% to 10% , is happiness going to double?
What's wrong with a growth rate of 0% ? Isn't this a rather
stable kind of economics ? Could there be anything better
than living simply and taking it easy?"
People find something out, learn how it works, and
put nature to use, thinking this will be for the good of
humankind. The result of all this, up to now, is that the
planet has become polluted, people have become confused,
and we have invited in the chaos of modern times.
"We have come to the point at which there is no other way than to
bring about a 'movement' not to bring anything about."
At this farm we practice "do-nothing" farming and eat
wholesome and delicious grains, vegetables, and citrus.
There is meaning and basic satisfaction just in living close
to the source of things. Life is song and poetry.
*Daiuma-san is a popular Japanese children's toy. It is a big balloon,
weighted at the bottom, in the shape of a monk seated in meditation.
The farmer became too busy when people began to
investigate the world and decided that it would be "good" if
we did this or did that. All my research has been in the
direction of not doing this or that. These thirty years have
taught me that farmers would have been better off doing
almost nothing at all.
The more people do, the more society develops, the
more problems arise. The increasing desolation of nature,
the exhaustion of resources, the uneasiness and
disintegration of the human spirit, all have been brought
about by humanity's trying to accomplish something.
Originally there was no reason to progress, and nothing that
had to be done. We have come to the point at which there is
no other way than to bring about a "movement" not to bring
I Was Born to Go to Nursery School
A young man with a small bag over his shoulder
walked leisurely up to where we were working in the fields.
"Where are you from?" I asked.
"How did you get here?"
"What did you come here for?"
"I don't know."
Most of those who come here are in no hurry to reveal
their names or the story of their past. They do not make
their purpose very clear either. Since many of them do not
know why they come, but just come, this is only natural.
From the first, man does not know where he comes
from or where he is going. To say that you are born from
your mother's womb and return to the earth is a biological
explanation, but no one really knows what exists before
birth or what kind of world is waiting after death.
Born without knowing the reason only to close one's
eyes and depart for the infinite unknown — the human being
is indeed a tragic creature.
The other day, I had found a woven sedge hat left by a
group of pilgrims who were visiting the temples of
Shikoku. On it were written the words, "Originally no east
or west / Ten infinite directions." Now, holding the hat in
my hands, I asked the youth again where he had come
from, and he said that he was the son of a temple priest in
Kanazawa, and since it was just foolishness to read
scriptures to the dead all day, he wanted to become a
There is no east or west. The sun comes up in the east,
sets in the west, but this is merely an astronomical
observation. Knowing that you do not understand either
east or west is closer to the truth. The fact is, no one knows
where the sun comes from.
Among the tens of thousands of scriptures, the one to
be most grateful for, the one where all the important points
are made, is the Heart Sutra. According to this sutra, "The
Lord Buddha declared, 'Form is emptiness, emptiness is
form. Matter and the spirit are one, but all is void. Man is
not alive, is not dead, is unborn and undying, without old
age and disease, without increase and without decrease.'"
The other day while we were cutting the rice, I said to
the youths who were resting against a big pile of straw, "I
was thinking that when rice is planted in the spring, the
seed sends out living shoots, and now, as we are reaping, it
appears to die. The fact that this ritual is repeated year after
year means that life continues in this field and the yearly
death is itself yearly birth. You could say that the rice we
are cutting now lives continuously."
Human beings usually see life and death in a rather
short perspective. What meaning can the birth of spring and
the death of autumn have for this grass? People think that
life is joy and death is sadness, but the rice seed, lying
within the earth and sending out shoots in spring, its leaves
and stems withering in the fall, still holds within its tiny
core the full joy of life. The joy of life does not depart in
death. Death is no more than a momentary passing.
Wouldn't you say that this rice, because it possesses the full
joyousness of life, does not know the sorrow of death?
The same thing that happens to rice and barley goes
on continuously within the human body. Day by day hair
and nails grow, tens of thousands of cells die, tens of
thousands more are born; the blood in the body a month
ago is not the same blood today. When you think that your
own characteristics will be propagated in the bodies of your
children and grandchildren, you could say that you are
dying and being reborn each day, and yet will live on for
many generations after death.
If participation in this cycle can be experienced and
savored each day, nothing more is necessary. But most
people are not able to enjoy life as it passes and changes
from day to day. They cling to life as they have already
experienced it, and this habitual attachment brings fear of
death. Paying attention only to the past, which has already
gone, or to the future, which has yet to come, they forget
that they are living on the earth here and now. Struggling in
confusion, they watch their lives pass as in a dream.
"If life and death are realities, isn't human suffering
"There is no life or death."
"How can you say that?"
The world itself is a unity of matter within the flow of
experience, but people's minds divide phenomena into
dualities such as life and death, yin and yang, being and
emptiness. The mind comes to believe in the absolute
validity of what the senses perceive and then, for the first
time, matter as it is turns into objects as human beings
normally perceive them.
The forms of the material world, concepts of life and
death, health and disease, joy and sorrow, all originate in
the human mind. In the sutra, when Buddha said that all is
void, he was not only denying intrinsic reality to anything
which is constructed by human intellect, but he was also
declaring that human emotions are illusions.
"You mean all is illusion? There's nothing left?"
"Nothing left? The concept of 'void' still remains in your
mind apparently," I said to the youth. "If you don't know
where you came from or where you're going, then how can
you be sure you're here, standing in front of me? Is
The other morning I heard a four-year-old girl ask her
mother, "Why was I born into this world? To go to nursery
Naturally her mother could not honestly say, "Yes,
that's right, so off you go." And yet, you could say that
people these days are born to go to nursery school.
Right up through college people study diligently to
learn why they were born. Scholars and philosophers, even
if they ruin their lives in the attempt, say they will be
satisfied to understand this one thing.
Originally human beings had no purpose. Now,
dreaming up some purpose or other, they struggle away
trying to find the meaning of life. It is a one-man wrestling
match. There is no purpose one has to think about, or go
out in search of. You would do well to ask the children
whether or not a life without purpose is meaningless.
From the time they enter nursery school, people's
sorrows begin. The human being was a happy creature, but
he created a hard world and now struggles trying to break
out of it.
In nature there is life and death, and nature is joyful.
In human society there is life and death, and people
live in sorrow.
Drifting Clouds and the Illusion of
This morning I am washing citrus storage boxes by
the river. As I stoop on a flat rock, my hands feel the chill
of the autumn river. The red leaves of the sumacs along the
river bank stand out against the clear blue autumn sky. I am
struck with wonder by the unexpected splendor of the
branches against the sky.
Within this casual scene the entire world of
experience is present. In the flowing water, the flow of
time, the left bank and right bank, the sunshine and
shadows, the red leaves and blue sky — all appear within the
sacred, silent book of nature. And man is a slender,
Once he inquires what nature is, he then must inquire
what that "what" is, and what that human who inquires
what that "what" is is. He heads, that is to say, into a world
of endless questioning.
In trying to gain a clear understanding of what it is
that fills him with wonder, what it is that astonishes him, he
has two possible paths. The first is to look deeply into
himself, at him who asks the question, "What is nature?"
The second is to examine nature apart from man.
The first path leads to the realm of philosophy and
religion. Gazing vacantly, it is not unnatural to see the
water as flowing from above to below, but there is no
inconsistency in seeing the water as standing still and the
bridge as flowing by.
If, on the other hand, following the second path, the
scene is divided into a variety of natural phenomena, the
water, the speed of the current, the waves, the wind and
white clouds, all of these separately become objects of
investigation, leading to further questions, which spread out
endlessly in all directions. This is the path of science.
The world used to be simple. You merely noticed in
passing that you got wet by brushing against the drops of
dew while meandering through the meadow. But from the
time people undertook to explain this one drop of dew
scientifically, they trapped themselves in the endless hell of
Water molecules are made up of atoms of hydrogen
and oxygen. People once thought that the smallest particles
in the world were atoms, but then they found out that there
was a nucleus inside the atom. Now they have discovered
that within the nucleus there are even tinier particles.
Among these nuclear particles there are hundreds of
different varieties and no one knows where the examination
of this minute world will end.
It is said that the way electrons orbit at ultra-high
speeds within the atom is exactly like the flight of comets
within the galaxy. To the atomic physicist the world of
elementary particles is a world as vast as the universe itself.
Yet it has been shown that in addition to the immediate
galaxy in which we live there are countless other galaxies.
In the eyes of the cosmologist, then, our entire galaxy
becomes infinitesimally small.
The fact is that people who think a drop of water is
simple or that a rock is fixed and inert are happy, ignorant
fools, and the scientists who know that the drop of water is
a great universe and the rock is an active world of
elementary particles streaming about like rockets, are
clever fools. Looked at simply, this world is real and at
hand. Seen as complex, the world becomes frighteningly
abstract and distant.
The scientists who rejoiced when rocks were brought
back from the moon have less grasp of the moon than the
children who sing out, "How old are you, Mr. Moon?"
Basho* could apprehend the wonder of nature by watching
the reflection of the full moon in the tranquillity of a pond.
All the scientists did when they went off into space and
stomped around in their spaceboots was to tarnish a bit of
the moon's splendor for millions of lovers and children on
How is it that people think science is beneficial to
Originally grain was ground into flour in this village
by a stone mill which was turned slowly by hand. Then a
watermill, which had incomparably greater momentum
than the old stone grinder, was built to utilize the power of
the river current. Several years ago a dam was constructed
to produce hydroelectric power and an electrically powered
mill was built.
*A famous Japanese haiku poet (1644-1694).
How do you think this advanced machinery works for
the benefit of human beings? In order to grind rice into flour,
it is first polished — that is, made into white rice. This means
husking the grain, removing the germ and the bran, which
are the basis of good health, and keeping the leftovers.**
And so the result of this technology is the breaking down of
the whole grain into incomplete by-products. If the too easily
digestible white rice becomes the daily staple, the diet lacks
nutrients, and dietary supplements become necessary. The
water wheel and the milling factory are doing the work of
the stomach and intestines, and their consequence is to make
these organs lazy.
It is the same with fuel. Crude oil is formed when the
tissue of ancient plants buried deep in the earth is
transformed by great pressure and heat. This substance is
dug out of the desert, sent to a port by pipeline, and then
transported by boat to Japan and refined into kerosene and
oil at a big refinery.
Which do you think is quicker, warmer, and more
convenient, burning this kerosene or branches of cedar or
pine from in front of the house? *** The fuel is the same
plant matter. The oil and kerosene just followed a longer
path in getting here.
Now they are saying that the fossil fuels are not
enough, and that we need to develop atomic energy. To
search out the scarce uranium ore, compress it into
radioactive fuel and burn it in a huge nuclear furnace is not
as easy as burning dried leaves with a match. Moreover, the
hearth fire leaves only ashes, but after a nuclear fire has
burned, the radioactive waste remains dangerous for many
thousands of years. The same principle holds in agriculture.
Grow a soft, fat rice plant in a flooded field and you get a
plant easily attacked by insects and disease. If "improved"
seed varieties are used one must rely on the help of
chemical insecticides and fertilizer.
On the other hand, if you grow a small, sturdy plant in
a healthy environment, these chemicals are unnecessary.
Cultivate a flooded rice field with a plow or tractor
and the soil becomes deficient in oxygen, the soil structure
is broken down, earthworms and other small animals are
destroyed, and the earth becomes hard and lifeless. Once
this happens, the field must be turned every year.
**In Japanese the character for leftovers — pronounced kasu — is
composed of radicals meaning "white" and "rice ; " the character for
bran — nuka — is made up of "rice" and "health."
***At the present time much of the world is faced with a shortage of
firewood. Implicit in Mr. Fukuoka's argument is the need to plant trees.
More broadly, Mr. Fukuoka is suggesting modest, direct answers
to the needs of daily life.
But if a method is adopted in which the earth
cultivates itself naturally, there is no need for a plow or
After the living soil is burned clean of organic matter
and microorganisms, the use of fast-acting fertilizers
becomes necessary. If chemical fertilizer is used the rice
grows fast and tall, but so do the weeds. Herbicides are
then applied and thought to be beneficial.
But if clover is sown with the grain, and all the straw
and organic residues are returned to the surface of the field
as mulch, crops can be grown without herbicides, chemical
fertilizer or prepared compost.
In farming there is little that cannot be eliminated.
Prepared fertilizer, herbicide, insecticide, machinery — all
are unnecessary. But if a condition is created in which they
become necessary, then the power of science is required.
I have demonstrated in my fields that natural farming
produces harvests comparable to those of modern scientific
agriculture. If the results of a non-active agriculture are
comparable to those of science, at a fraction of the
investment in labor and resources, then where is the benefit
of scientific technology?
The Theory of Relativity
Looking out into the bright sunlight of the autumn
sky, scanning the surrounding fields, I was amazed. In
every field but mine there was a rice harvesting machine or
combine running around. In the last three years, this village
has changed beyond recognition.
As one might expect, the youths on the mountain do
not envy the changeover to mechanization. They enjoy the
quiet, peaceful harvest with the old hand sickle.
Sharpening a long-handled scythe.
That night as we were finishing the evening meal, I
recalled over tea how, long ago in this village, in the days
when the farmers were turning the fields by hand, one man
began to use a cow. He was very proud of the ease and
speed with which he could finish the laborious job of
plowing. Twenty years ago when the first mechanical
cultivator made its appearance, the villagers all got together
and debated seriously which was better, the cow or the
machine. In two or three years it became clear that plowing
by machine was faster, and without looking beyond
considerations of time and convenience, the farmers
abandoned their draft animals. The inducement was simply
to finish the job more quickly than the farmer in the next
The farmer does not realize that he has merely
become a factor in modern agriculture's equation of
increasing speed and efficiency. He lets the farm equipment
salesman do all the figuring for him.
Originally people would look into a starry night sky
and feel awe at the vastness of the universe. Now questions
of time and space are left entirely to the consideration of
It is said that Einstein was given the Nobel Prize in
physics in deference to the incomprehensibility of his
theory of relativity. If his theory had explained clearly the
phenomenon of relativity in the world and thus released
humanity from the confines of time and space, bringing
about a more pleasant and peaceful world, it would have
been commendable. His explanation is bewildering,
however, and it caused people to think that the world is
complex beyond all possible understanding. A citation for
"disturbing the peace of the human spirit" should have been
In nature, the world of relativity does not exist. The
idea of relative phenomena is a structure given to
experience by the human intellect. Other animals live in a
world of undivided reality. To the extent that one lives in
the relative world of the intellect, one loses sight of time
that is beyond time and of space that is beyond space.
"You might be wondering why I have this habit of
picking on the scientists all the time," I said, pausing to
take a sip of tea. The youths looked up smiling, faces
glowing and flickering in the firelight. "It's because the role
of the scientist in society is analogous to the role of
discrimination in your own minds."
A Village Without War and Peace
A snake seizes a frog in its mouth and slips away into
the grass. A girl screams. A brave lad bares his feelings of
loathing and flings a rock at the snake. The others laugh. I
turn to the boy who threw the stone: "What do you think
that's going to accomplish?"
The hawk hunts the snake. The wolf attacks the hawk.
A human kills the wolf, and later succumbs to a
tuberculosis virus. Bacteria breed in the remains of the
human, and other animals, grasses, and trees thrive on the
nutrients made available by the bacteria's activity. Insects
attack the trees, the frog eats the insects.
Animals, plants, microorganisms — all are part of the
cycle of life. Maintaining a suitable balance, they live a
naturally regulated existence. People may choose to view
this world either as a model of strong consuming weak, or
of co-existence and mutual benefit. Either way, it is an
arbitrary interpretation which causes wind and waves,
brings about disorder and confusion.
Adults think the frog is deserving of pity, and feeling
compassion for its death, despise the snake. This feeling
may seem to be natural, just a matter of course, but is this
what it really is?
One youth said, "If life is seen as a contest in which
the strong consume the weak, the face of the earth becomes
a hell of carnage and destruction. But it is unavoidable that
the weak should be sacrificed so that the strong may live.
That the strong win and survive and the weak die out is a
rule of nature. After the passage of millions of years, the
creatures now living on the earth have been victorious in
the struggle for life. You could say that the survival of the
fittest is a providence of nature."
Said a second youth, "That's how it appears to the
winners, anyway. The way I see it, this world is one of co-
existence and mutual benefit. At the foot of the grain in this
field, clover, and so many varieties of grasses and weeds
are living mutually beneficial lives. Ivy winds around the
trees, moss and lichen live attached to the tree's trunk and
branches. Ferns spread beneath the forest canopy. Birds
and frogs, plants, insects, small animals, bacteria, fungi —
all creatures perform essential roles and benefit from one
A third spoke, "The earth is a world of the strong
consuming the weak, and also one of co-existence. The
stronger creatures take no more food than necessary;
though they attack other creatures, the overall balance of
nature is maintained. The providence of nature is an
ironclad rule, preserving peace and order upon the earth."
Three people and three points of view. I met all three
opinions with a flat denial.
The world itself never asks whether it is based upon a
principle of competition or of cooperation. When seen from
the relative perspective of the human intellect, there are
those who are strong and there are those who are weak,
there is large and there is small.
Now there is no one who doubts that this relative
outlook exists, but if we were to suppose that the relativity
of human perception is mistaken — for example, that
there is no big and no small, no up or down — if we say
there is no such standpoint at all, human values and
judgment would collapse.
"Isn't that way of seeing the world an empty flight of
the imagination? In reality, there are large countries and
small countries. If there is poverty and plenty, strong and
weak, inevitably there will be disputes, and consequently,
winners and losers. Couldn't you say, rather, that these
relative perceptions and the resulting emotions are human
and therefore natural, that they are a unique privilege of
Other animals fight but do not make war. If you say
that making war, which depends upon ideas of strong and
weak, is humanity's special "privilege," then life is a farce.
Not knowing this farce to be a farce — there lies the human
The ones who live peacefully in a world of no
contradictions and no distinctions are infants. They
perceive light and dark, strong and weak, but make no
judgments. Even though the snake and the frog exist, the
child has no understanding of strong and weak. The
original joy of life is there, but the fear of death is yet to
The love and hate which arise in the adult's eyes
originally were not two separate things. They are the same
thing as seen from the front and from the back. Love gives
substance to hate. If you turn the coin of love over, it
becomes hate. Only by penetrating to an absolute world of
no aspects, is it possible to avoid becoming lost in the
duality of the phenomenal world.
People distinguish between Self and Other. To the
extent that the ego exists, to the extent that there is an
"other," people will not be relieved from love and hatred.
The heart that loves the wicked ego creates the hated
enemy. For humans, the first and greatest enemy is the
Self that they hold so dear.
"In nature, the world of relativity does not exist.'
People choose to attack or to defend. In the ensuing
struggle they accuse one another of instigating conflict. It is
like clapping your hands and then arguing about which is
making the sound, the right hand or the left. In all
contentions there is neither right nor wrong, neither good
nor bad. All conscious distinctions arise at the same time
and all are mistaken.
To build a fortress is wrong from the start. Even
though he gives the excuse that it is for the city's defense,
the castle is the outcome of the ruling lord's personality,
and exerts a coercive force on the surrounding area. Saying
he is afraid of attack and that fortification is for the town's
protection, the bully stocks up Weapons and puts the key in
The act of defense is already an attack. Weapons for
self-defense always give a pretext to those who instigate
wars. The calamity of war comes from the strengthening
and magnifying of empty distinctions of self/other,
There is no other road to peace than for all people to
depart from the castle gate of relative perception, go down
into the meadow, and return to the heart of non-active
nature. That is, sharpening the sickle instead of the sword.
The farmers of long ago were a peaceful people, but
now they are arguing with Australia about meat, quarreling
with Russia over fish, and dependent on America for wheat
I feel as if we in Japan are living in the shadow of a
big tree, and there is no place more dangerous to be during
a thunderstorm than under a big tree. And there could be
nothing more foolish than taking shelter under a "nuclear
umbrella" which will be the first target in the next war.
Now we are tilling the earth beneath that dark umbrella. I
feel as though a crisis is approaching from both inside and
Get rid of the aspects of inside and outside. Farmers
everywhere in the world are at root the same farmers. Let
us say that the key to peace lies close to the earth.
The One- Straw Revolution
Among the young people who come to these
mountain huts, there are those, poor in body and spirit, who
have given up all hope. I am only an old farmer who
grieves that he cannot even provide them with a pair of
sandals — but there is still one thing I can give them.
I picked up some straw from in front of the hut and
said, "From just this one straw a revolution could begin."
"With the destruction of mankind at hand, you can
still hope to cling to a straw?" one youth asked, with a
touch of bitterness in his voice.
This straw appears small and light, and most people
do not know how really weighty it is. If people knew the
true value of this straw a human revolution could occur
which would become powerful enough to move the country
and the world.
When I was a child there was a man who lived near
Inuyose Pass. All he seemed to do was to pack charcoal on
horseback two miles or so along the road from the top of
the mountain to the port of Gunchu. And yet he became
rich. If you ask how, people will tell you that on his trip
homeward from the port he gathered the discarded straw
horseshoes and the manure by the side of the road and put
them onto his field. His motto was: "Treat one strand of
straw as important and never take a useless step." It made
him a wealthy man.
"Even if you burned the straw, I don't think it could
kindle a spark to start a revolution."
A gentle breeze rustled through the orchard trees,
sunlight flickering among the green leaves. I began to talk
about using straw in growing rice.
It has been nearly forty years since I realized how
important straw could be in growing rice and barley. At
that time, passing an old rice field in Kochi Prefecture
which had been left unused and uncultivated for many
years, I saw healthy young rice sprouting up through a
tangle of weeds and straw which had accumulated on the
field's surface. After working on the implications of that for
many years, I came out advocating a completely new
method of rice and barley growing.
Believing that this was a natural and revolutionary
way of farming, I wrote about it in books and magazines,
and spoke of it on television and radio dozens of times.
It seems a very simple thing, but farmers are so set in
their thinking about how straw should be used, that it is
unlikely that they will accept change easily. Spreading
fresh straw on a field can be risky because rice blast and
stem rot are diseases always present in rice straw. In the
past, these diseases have caused great damage, and this is
one of the main reasons that farmers have always turned
the straw into compost before putting it back onto the field.
Long ago, careful disposal of rice straw was commonly
practiced as a countermeasure against blast disease, and
there were times in Hokkaido when the wholesale burning
of straw was required by law.
Stem borers also enter the straw to pass the winter. To
prevent an infestation of these insects, farmers used to
compost the straw carefully all winter long to be sure that it
would be completely decomposed by the following spring.
That is why Japanese farmers have always kept their fields
so neat and tidy. The practical knowledge of everyday life
was that if farmers left straw lying around, they would be
punished by heaven for their negligence.
After years of experimentation, even technical experts
have now confirmed my theory that spreading fresh straw
on the field six months before seeding is completely safe.
This overturned all previous ideas on the subject. But it is
going to be a long while before the farmers become
receptive to using straw in this manner.
Farmers have been working for centuries to try to
increase the production of compost. The Ministry of
Agriculture used to give incentive pay to encourage
compost production, and competitive compost exhibitions
were held as annual events. Farmers came to believe in
compost as though it were the protective deity of the soil.
Now again there is a movement to make more compost,
"better" compost, with earthworms and "compost-starter."
There is no reason to expect an easy acceptance of my
suggestion that prepared compost is unnecessary, that all
you have to do is scatter fresh unshredded straw across the
In traveling up to Tokyo, looking out the window of
the Tokaido train, I have seen the transformation of the
Japanese countryside. Looking at the winter fields, the
appearance of which has completely changed in ten years, I
feel an anger I cannot express. The former landscape of
neat fields of green barley, Chinese milk vetch, and
blooming rape plants is nowhere to be seen. Instead, half-
burned straw is piled roughly in heaps and left soaking in
the rain. That this straw is being neglected is proof of the
disorder of modern farming. The barrenness of these
fields reveals the barrenness of the farmer's spirit. It
challenges the responsibility of government leaders, and
clearly points out the absence of a wise agricultural policy.
The man who several years ago talked about a
"merciful end" to the growing of winter grain, of its "death
by the side of the road" — what does he think now when he
sees these empty fields? Seeing the barren fields of
wintertime Japan, I can remain patient no longer. With this
straw, I, by myself, will begin a revolution!
The youths who had been listening silently were now
roaring with laughter.
"A one-man revolution! Tomorrow let's get a big sack
of barley, rice, and clover seed and take off, carrying it on
our shoulders, like Okuninushi-no-mikoto,* and broadcast
seeds all over the fields of Tokaido."
"That's not a one-man revolution," I laughed, "it's a
one-straw revolution! "
Stepping out of the hut into the afternoon sunlight, I
paused for a moment and gazed at the surrounding orchard
trees laden with ripening fruit, and at the chickens
scratching in the weeds and clover. I then began my
familiar descent to the fields.
*The legendary Japanese god of healing who travels around tossing
good fortune from a large sack which he carries over his shoulder.
The One-Straw Revolution was designed and produced by Jack
Shoemaker and George Mattingly, and typeset in Trump Mediaeval by
Bob Sibley, in Berkeley, 1977-78.